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It’s a good morning to be up and walking. I’m a little down and can use the exercise. We started packing up my parents’ house this week. My dad finally sold it, and the move-out is next Sunday and Monday. I started out fine – practical, pragmatic, businesslike and efficient – but by Thursday, I was overcome. It started as a shaking I couldn’t understand, a nonspecific anxiety, and turned into tears. I have never lived in this house, but for 17 years, it has been the heart of our family. It’s the last place I saw my mom; a place I still feel her.

sold signAnd all these things we’re dividing up – some to me, some to Art, some to my cousins, to Salvation Army, to my spiritual community, to house-sale buyers and to friends – they’re the set pieces of my childhood. I don’t necessarily want to hang onto them, but as a group, they represent Home in a way that only your childhood home can be home: the low-boy I played dolls under, the couch I used to lie on and imagine myself Cleopatra. On the one hand, they’re just things, and I have spent the last year assessing and reassessing my own things, getting rid of what no longer serves me, so I’m ready to do this. But on the other hand, they’re the physical symbols of a life. And if you doubt the power of symbols, take a close look at any religion or political movement. We are creatures of pattern and symbol. We invest things with meaning. As one friend pointed out, “You’re taking apart what your mother put together.” Not the family. The family, thank God, is strong and resilient. But the home. By next week, my parents’ home will exist only in memory.

Yeah, it’s a good day to be up and walking. Get those endorphins up! It’s a short training day – nine miles – and I’m all about speed. Beth is out of town, but Gayle, Verna, Anjali and I are a good pack. They’re all doing Kona and don’t need to worry so much about time, but I do. So I’m pushing, and they’re pushing with me.

I think I’ve always been afraid of being competitive, that somehow it was wrong. I could be very competitive with myself, sure, but to compete against someone else…there’s an edge to it that I didn’t play with, and didn’t even realize I had until the Poetry Slams. Certainly never with athletics. Why bother? I always lost.

Well, today the blades are bared, and we are moving fast. It starts at 7:30, when Gayle and I use the restroom, and V and Anjali take off without us. Verna calls Gayle’s cell phone and tells us we pee too much.

“Let’s catch them,” says Gayle, and we pick up speed. We’re trying to be fast and quiet, sneak up them, but we’re still over a yard behind when Gayle yells out “Pissers rule!” Now it’s begun. For the rest of the morning, we seem to rotate in who gets a burst of energy, picks up speed and eggs the others to go faster. In the slow moments, Anjali entertains us with stories, and imitations, of her Indian mother. And then, of course, there’s the great body-watching on the beach.

Somewhere in training, we picked up the term “rabbit.” It’s the person just ahead who you keep trying to catch, to keep you motivated; they’re your rabbit. But we’re playing a different game: vying to be the rabbit. I pick up speed and catch Verna. “Rabbit,” I whisper as I slip by. Pretty soon she’s caught up with me, as have the others. Suddenly Anjali gets another wind. “Rabbit,” she cries as she sails by us. All along the Hermosa Beach strand, we play rabbit, gaining energy, losing energy, falling into step and then passing each other up. It’s the most openly competitive I have ever been, and it is fun!

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In 2005, I stunned myself by signing up to walk the San Diego Rock ‘n Roll Marathon on behalf of the American Stroke Association. This post is one of a series of reflections and Training Tales from that time. The whole series begins here.

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