Oh My Hero

I feel like driving out to Newark, New Jersey to give Mayor Cory Booker a massage. He’s inviting people over to his friggin’ house. For meals and showers and television. For real. He’s amazing. I’ve had a crush on him for a while and became a fan of him on Facebook several months ago, and he’s been one of the best additions to my Facebook newsfeed. Before Superstorm Sandy his daily posts were inspirational and they still are, but man the boy has amped it up. He says things like:

Tough times don’t always build character but they usually do reveal it. Thanks to all who are lifting themselves by lifting others.

Battered but not beaten. Without power but not powerless. We stand strong. We stand together. We will persevere.

“You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.” C.G. Jung

Be of service today. Help another. Call and check in on someone you know. If you can, deliver supplies to a senior this morning.

The biggest thing you do today could be a small act of kindness.

These days his posts are not only inspirational, but also informative. He tells people where to bring flashlights and batteries, where there are seniors who may need help, what shelters accept pets.

I’m following him on twitter now, and at close to midnight on Thursday someone tweeted, “We have had no power since Monday & it’s been freezing with no heat! Please help!?” Minutes later he responded, ““Where are u? Can I bring blankets, etc?”

For real.

He tells us:

When they say you are less

Know you are MORE

When they tell you to crawl

They can’t defeat YOU
Only YOU can beat YOU

So don’t hold back. Let your SPIRIT loose.
Let everyday be a testimony to your highest TRUTH.

I can’t find the above attributed to anyone else, so those may be Mayor Booker’s original words. He quotes Picasso– “Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.”—and reads Langston Hughes’ poetry. I hope you’re not doubting him, but this guy walks the talk too. He’s been a mentor for a long time and he wrote about it in Mens Health.

Did I mention I have a crush on him? Did I mention I just found out he’s single and forty-three? I know I’ve mentioned how smitten I am with Missoula, but can’t you see me in Newark? It isn’t as big of a stretch as it seems; my mother and grandmother live in Queens, just twenty miles away. Of course that twenty-mile trip would right now take hours if it was even a possibility.

Gas stations are out of gas, a few of the subway lines just started running, and if you don’t have somewhere to be you should just stay out of the way. The other day my mother reported that she talked to some people in her neighborhood who were on a bus for three hours trying to get to Manhattan, but who got off because it was futile. People were peeing on the bus, and an older woman tried to pee into a plastic bag.

I’m so glad that my mother and grandmother didn’t lose power or sustain any damage to their property, though other relatives on Long Island did not fare so well. I can’t imagine seeing my belongings floating in my house, and it makes the wicked forest fires of this summer and fall seem like no biggie.

Count your blessings.

These are tough times, and it’s been a challenge to feel joy these past few days. I’ve certainly felt happiness—in a nice walk with a friend, in a deep hug from another—but in the wake of Sandy true joy is out of reach.

I remember how I felt after the December 26, 2005 tsunami in Thailand, the January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and Katrina. That’s a short list, but these are the natural disasters I remember feeling deeply. I couldn’t just go on with my everyday piddling when so many were paralyzed.

Somehow it feels wrong. I can sort of enjoy the little things—cooking a meal, cruising into the gas station, turning the heat up to 68 and taking a hot bath—but not without twinges of guilt. But what could I do, from here, to assist the east coasters who’ve been ravaged? Nothing, really. Can I do more for my community? Absolutely. Tomorrow I’m going to donate books and CDs to the Humane Society for their upcoming fundraiser. While I’m there I’ll drop off towels and blankets to keep the animals cozy as the days grow colder. I’ll also be attending their Pizza for Pets fundraiser in a few weeks, but that’s all passive. It’s not enough. I need to be more active and engaged. And I will.

I’m inspired by the selfless and courageous acts up and down the eastern seaboard. Just like hate can breed more hate, love can breed more love.

Here’s “There is a Dream in the Land” by Langston Hughes in its entirety in case you skipped Cory’s video, which I hope you didn’t.

There is a dream in the land
With its back against the wall
By muddled names and strange
Sometimes the dream is called.

There are those who claim
This dream for theirs alone–
A sin for which we know
They must atone.

Unless shared in common
Like sunlight and like air,
The dream will die for lack
Of substance anywhere.

The dream knows no frontier or tongue,
The dream, no class or race.

The dream cannot be kept secure
In any one locked place.

This dream today embattled,
With its back against the wall–
To save the dream for one
It must be saved for all.


I’m not sure where this picture was taken. One source said NYC and another said Hoboken, NJ. That’s not important at all; what’s important is the way that people are extending kindness and generosity to each other.

City Love

I posted a few pictures yesterday on Facebook in an album titled “Missoula Marathon 2012.” That is what the event is called, but in addition to a full marathon there’s a half-marathon, a relay, a 5K, and a Kid’s run. A lot of my friends “liked” my album and the individual photos, and with each click I almost felt obligated to clarify: You know I “just” ran the half? Right?

But there’s something odd to me about the word “just.” Just is one of those words that has a wide range of meaning—everything from morally right to deserved to only.

In the case of my marathon it means “only” or “no more than” the half. Sort of like when people say “we’re just friends,” as if being more than friends would be better, when in fact sometimes it’s not. Or like when people say, “I’ll just have the bacon double cheeseburger, with fries, and might as well have onion rings,” then when asked if they want a drink say, “Okay, I’ll just have a diet coke.”

In a lot of cases “just” is quite a lot.

I ran the half-marathon in 2008, and in 2010 and 2011 my mother came out and we “just” walked it. After I ran the 2008 half-marathon I was with a friend who told his mother I’d just finished the half-marathon to which she replied: “What happened to the other half?” She was being funny, but for some reason it stuck with me. Is the other half necessary? Is it too much? Is it more than enough?

A lot of people run full marathons, sometimes multiple marathons in a year. Sometimes marathons on challenging terrain. Sometimes marathons with a live band at every mile. Sometimes marathon that hurt their bodies beyond repair.

Some people never run a full marathon; I am one of those people.

I’ve thought about it. I love running and its ability to reset me when my wiring goes haywire. I love that running requires so little and gives so much, and I will do it until my body tells me not too. I’ll do it when it’s too hot, too cold, too icy, too dark. That said, I’m not physically constructed “like a runner,” and definitely fall into the category of built for comfort and not for speed. I don’t think running a full marathon would serve me well, so I gratefully accept my ability to run just half.

Just half is a lot. It’s 13.1 miles, and in Missoula that is all on pavement. It starts at 6:00, which means a wake up time around 4:00. On July 8th the sun rose before 6:00 and there was light popping over the hills before that, but still…waking up that early is just not just. It feels downright inhumane to be awake at that hour wondering: have I eaten enough? Have I pooped? Have I hydrated? Have I completely lost my mind? {emphasis on that last one.}

But then you get downtown and start to feel the energy of the thousands of other runners taking school busses to the start. You’re glad you have a rack of ponytail holders on your wrist so you can give one to the woman who can’t believe she forgot. You see bodies that have trained and bodies that have not. You see runners, walkers, and hand-cyclers. You see wheelchairs. You see t-shirts announcing the runner is running in loving memory of someone. You think: maybe I haven’t lost it. You know: I can do this.

You hear the Star-Spangled Banner and you put your hand over your heart. You might tear up. You see the guys running in superhero underpants, the girls running in tutus. You smile. But the national anthem ends, the shot is fired, the fireworks go off, and so do you.

Afterward you’ll hear about the ten-year old who finished (just the half) and the woman who ran NOT just the half after sustaining a traumatic brain injury twelve years ago and had to learn to walk and then to run. You’re in awe.

I didn’t train for this event. I hadn’t run more than five miles since last fall and I was technically unprepared. The week before the marathon I googled “ running a half-marathon without training” but the results were inconclusive; I was going to have to find that answer within myself, and myself said, “YES!” Then it said, “maybe,” then it said, “yes” again. I caught myself on a yes and signed up less than twenty-four hours before the event. I made my decision they way I’ve made most of my decisions in life: would I rather try and fail then not try and not know?

trytrytry. yesyesyes. trytrytry. yesyesyes. trytrytry. yesyesyes. trytrytry. yesyesyes.

There were times I was propelled along by the energy of the runners all around me, but most of the time I was in my own little world. I enjoyed toggling back and forth between running with thousands of others runners and going within, telling myself I was “just going on a nice Sunday run across town, listening to music, enjoying the views.” The body is powerful, but the mind even more so.

I made myself a killer playlist that had about eight days worth of songs on it. Some of the songs I’ve loved in my past didn’t deliver the way I’d hoped, and some songs that I’d added on a hunch got me turning my legs over in ways I didn’t expect. House of Pain “Jump Around.” Gwen Stefani “The Sweet Escape.” Tiffany “I think we’re Alone Now.” Kid Rock “Bawitdaba.” Sugarland “Stuck on You.” Barry White “Can’t Get Enough.” Sublime, “Santeria.”

Wow, there really isn’t a lot of shame left in my game…

Because I went into the event “untrained” I told myself I could walk some if I needed to, but it turned out that if I ran at my own pace I didn’t need to. It took me two-and-a-half hours to finish, with my miles averaging out at 11:40. I almost felt guilty because at the end I had some juice to spare, but I stopped myself: why is it necessary to push ourselves to exhaustion or injury? Why can’t we just enjoy ourselves?

The Missoula Marathon has been rated among the best in the US, and was ranked #1 by Runner’s World in 2010. That’s great. It’s great for our community and for the runners who get to experience the improvements every year even as the event continues to grow. If the Missoula Marathon has growing pains they are not apparent; every year the efficiency improves but the hometown feel remains.

Formal and informal surveys alike continually name one thing as the factor that makes the Missoula Marathon so incredible. Everyone agrees that the scenery is lovely and the climate is dry and comfortable, but it’s the people that really make it special.

The marathon volunteers give us water, sort our bags, and cheer us on. My bus driver told every single person who got off to “have a good run.” Then there’s the man playing his grand piano on his lawn across from the Bitterroot River just after 6:00am. There’s the guy with the record player. There are the dozens of people who set up sprinklers in front of their houses, some rigged high on ladders so you can run through a shower. There are the people drinking coffee wrapped in blankets sitting on tailgates, the kids in pajamas, the mothers in robes. The dogs. There are the kids handing out otter pops (I got pink!) and the coolers of ice with signs to “help yourself.” There is so much cheering, so much support, so much city love.

I don’t live in Missoula for the skiing, the fishing, or the mountain biking: I live here (and love it) because of the people. Missoula people are so awesome. My close friends, my extended friends, the barista at the coffee shop, the stranger who changed my tire, the three-year old (also a “stranger”) who gave Lucky a tennis ball at the Big Dipper last night. I’ll say it again: Missoula people are so awesome.

Yeah, I guess it’s just the people.

Thanks, again, Missoula.