I did not feel like running today. I was achy and cranky, not unlike Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in this old SNL skit. But it was one of those beautiful winter-turning-to-spring mornings, with nothing but gloom and rain forecast for the afternoon and evening. I’d dropped my girls off at school, so if I were going to get a run in, this was my chance.
I plodded off on a favorite route, and it didn’t take long for my mind to quiet and make peace with my complaining body. The mountains peeked out from the clouds, the daffodils were up, and the long-absent ta-tweet ta-tweet tweet of robins had returned. I turned onto a wooded trail, and thought: Jean would have loved this run.
Jean–not her real name–was a former client of mine. She’d worked for an airline and travelled the world. She’d loved to run along the beaches of West Seattle. Then she was diagnosed with MS. When I worked with her, she was living in a nursing home, unable to move from the neck down.
She could be at turns wickedly funny, bitterly angry, bored, depressed, and optimistic. She loved to hear the latest MS research. Even if it wouldn’t help her, it comforted her to know someone was trying to sort out the puzzle of MS. Naturally, she hoped someone would come up with an answer that would cure her.
No answers came soon enough for Jean. Her illness progressed in the way MS does: randomly. She’d fall 6 steps back, then inch a couple forward. Near the end of our time together, I’d sit with her. She was unable to say much beyond, “Help me.”
I tried telling myself, She still knows who I am; I’m here to help. But there was frustratingly little I could do. I could tell she was listening to what I said, so I told her everything I could think of about her life. I recounted everyone in her life who loved her, named her friends, pointed out all her favorite travel destinations on her world map, retraced her favorite running routes in West Seattle, talked about the glorious late-summer days we were having, promised to take her outside once she was well enough to get out of bed again.
We never did get to sit outside together. By my next visit, she had returned to the hospital, for what would be the last time. That weekend, I went for a run. The air had the crispness of fall in it, but the sun was still bold and warm. I remember not wanting to run that day either. I hadn’t slept well the night before, and I felt tired and groggy. But it was too beautiful a day to pass indoors, so I went. I approached a hill, and thought briefly of stopping, and then I thought of Jean and picked up the pace. “She would have loved this run. She would have loved everything about this day.” I could just feel her striding beside me, and I knew–knew in bones–she was gone.
My intuition, sadly, was right. It’s been some months since Jean died. I think of the many conversations we had. She often felt she wished she’d done more in her life, which always stunned me to hear it coming from someone who’d had a fantastic career and travelled the world. But that’s what hope does: It goads us to want more, do more. It gets us up in the morning, but it can also keep us from finding contentment in the present. It can down-play the past.
Jean, despite her trying circumstances, never stopped wanting for her life. Even when she was brought low by MS, there were still milestones she wanted to reach. She was still a runner at heart. When my mind and body complain, and I think about stopping, I hear saying, “Go, Go, Go!” And I keep at it, thinking, “She would have loved this run.”