Category Archives: Mulligan Moments

The past is gone. The future is not yet available.

One Page At a Time

One morning ritual I’ve been working on establishing is a first-thing-top-of-mind-write session. It’s just a minimum of one page, handwritten stream of consciousness dump into a book I keep bedside, preferably before I check my phone for any messages or news of the day. Just what’s running through my head when I awake.

I know that rituals are one of the key tools we have in transformational change, so it’s something I try to make time for, directly after brushing and flossing.

Hopefully these journal entries won’t come back to haunt me like they have done for a dear friend of mine. My friend ruminates and keeps going back to re-read the journals from years ago, something I simply find it unbearable to do, unless necessary for a writing project.

I have to admit, when I can stomach the look back, it’s compelling. I mean what’s more fascinating to us than ourselves? In my case, it’s like driving by a wreck on the highway. Not pretty, but also hard to look away.

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Write it down and walk away. Make journals a release of the past, not a monument to it.

But here’s the problem — our journals lock in thoughts from another time—and keep alive old grudges, pains, distresses. At least for me, it’s the things (and people!) that bother me that I tend to write down.  “Life is quiet and peaceful and I’m enjoying just sitting here and writing,” doesn’t make it into the journal.

With my friend, this habit actually fed and further burned in feelings of unhappiness to the point where it affected a long marriage.  My friend couldn’t move on from the past and wanted everyone to know what had been endured, so we could all share again in the suffering.  This rekindled the suffering and locked in that version of the truth, even if though the journals described a world that largely was no longer present.

I talk about suffering in my journal too. But I do it to let go of those thoughts- it’s like I am putting them on little slips of paper and casting them away from my soul. It’s an exhale for me. Which is what I need to do before I can inhale again with fresh air of today.

Yet for some people like my friend, memories of these pains and transgressions– even if they are not written down in a journal– are often revisited with little reminders, grudges and perceived offenses that we just can’t put aside.

It’s as if the pain is kept under lock and key in a bank vault, where it builds interest and dominates our emotional portfolio.  The distress is perpetually revisited and kept alive, so we remain shackled in the chains of the past, rather than in the wholeness and freedom of the present.

Re-reading a journal does provide a fuller knowledge of how we got here, I understand that. But when we approach it as if it is the only version of history, we stand the risk of just picking your scabs and preventing healing.

Journals are permanent, life is not.

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Sweet aromas can grow from the painful rocks of our memories, if we can let the sun shine and embrace our personal growth.

A poet’s tortured journals of woe make good copy, but do not fuel a happy life. Perhaps we’ve been taught that it’s more romantic to be miserable, forlorn and misunderstood, waiting for the world to reconfigure and recognize your gift.

I have a common bit of advice I give to people who come to me with worries and concerns about the future– “let’s not read ahead. One page at a time.”

Let’s also not keep reading too far back either. Some of those characters in our back story are better off left there, as we build a better version of our self.

McFarland USA: Championship Run. TM’s 3 Word Movie Review: Rent– and Run!

My friends at Runners World came up with this list of 12 Great Running Movies earlier this year, but it didn’t include McFarland USA, which was released days after the list was posted.  It’s a shame, because the movie, being released on DVD this week, belongs on the list.

The movie takes us through the back story of a cross country team forged from the immigrant families of San Joaquin Valley, CA.  As far as I know, it’s the one and only theatrical release that delves into the dynamics of a high school cross country squad, where individual achievement is harnessed like sled dogs to pull the team to ultimate victory.

When I walked out of the theater in February on opening weekend, I was with my two daughters– one a teenage athlete and the other a third-grader with her entire sporting life in front of her.   I was thrilled that they could both share the theater experience with me– it’s the only movie we’ve seen together all year.

McFARLAND, USA..L to R: Thomas Valles (Carlos Pratts), Victor Puentes (Sergio Avelar), Jose Cardenas (Johnny Ortiz), Johnny Sameniego (Hector Duran), Danny Diaz (Ramiro Rodriguez), Damacio Diaz (Jamie Michael Aguero), and David Diaz (Rafael Martinez)...Ph: Ron Phillips..?Disney 2015
The best beach running scene since Rocky and Apollo Creed

I was especially proud to share with them a running story, because I had recently completed my first cross country race in more than 30 years, and was writing about my experience for an article that is scheduled to appear in Runners World September 2015 issue.

What my daughters and I saw on screen was a good old fashioned Disney fairy tale, with the redeeming quality of being based on a real story, the rebirth and rise of the McFarland High School cross country team.

My teenager got to see the film’s version of a high school that was much different than her own.  Her high school sits on a lush, shady, sprawling gem of a campus full of well-appointed brick structures and a massive new athletic center.  McFarland High sits across the street from a prison.   She regularly gets new team gear from the school, the McFarland moms have to throw a tamale sale to get them uniforms and running shoes.

My little one got a glimpse of all that too, at a time when she is still forming her understanding of how to succeed in life.  A few months later, when I was playfully running in front of her after picking her up from school, she pulled up next to me.   “I’m Danny Diaz!,” she shouted.  We hadn’t spoken about the movie at all after the night we saw it, but that lasting image of an underdog coming from way back had stuck with her.  I also hope she remembered that Danny, his brothers, and friends became better runners through hard work and with the love and loyalty of their family.

My kids face, and I for that matter, will have to keep facing unique challenges of our own in our lives.  Be they the ordinary disappointments of tests gone poorly, or jobs not secured or more imposing obstacles like injustice and intolerance for the choices we make or the people we become.

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I was grateful that McFarland USA was able to show us how this group of boys, fueled by the passion of their coach, were able to overcome so many difficult obstacles to reach their own goals.

Cynically, I could see why the movie was released on Oscars weekend– it is not the kind of movie that gets nominated for awards.  But it did get generally good reviews, and hit a respectable $44 million at the box office, on a production budget of $17 million, according to The Numbers.    It’s sure to be a welcome Friday night family movie this weekend– and an inspiring Redbox rental this fall when high school and college cross country season commences.

But when I walked out of that theater I had no desire to be cynical.  The running scenes were beautiful, the drama suitably constructed, the characters portrayed deeply enough for us to care, the story real enough to matter and the ending satisfying enough for my little one and I to remember and relive months later.

Yet the best part of the movie for me, they may not remember at all.  It was the epilogue, just before the credit role, where we get a look at the men those boys became, as they ran down a sun-scorched California road.  They each had their own ending– and presumably some more happy than others.  But seeing them still running, and realizing they looked a little like me running along the pavement to whatever lay ahead, gave me chills.

If you are a runner, you will appreciate the portrayal of the way the distance running can test a person’s soul and drive. If you are not, you will still be moved by the film’s simple, inspiring and accessible story for all ages.

I’ll resist the temptation of calling McFarland USA the Hoosiers of cross country, because that basketball movie is at another level of artistic and emotional vitality.  But it holds the same power to open eyes to the beauty of a sport I love, the payoff of hard work, and the indomitable human spirit possessed by even the young and marginalized among us.

Rent it the night before your next big run.

The Compost Bucket Challenge

So it’s my turn to take the ALS Bucket Challenge, thanks to Nelson Peña.

Such a great cause and a fun way to face a terrible disease. It got me thinking of another great cause to fight for. It’s a one that can reverse disease and secure health and wealth for future generations. And it’s a delicious way to live. Best of all, it’s a battle that can be won one bucket at a time. One compost bucket that is.

To my friends at Rodale Institute, The Seed Farm, Organic Gardening, Joshua Scott Onysko, Organic Valley Farms, Mike McGrath, George DeVault, Seventh Generation, Cascadian Farms, John Grogan and Jenny Vogt , Food & Water Watch, Stonyfield Farms, Pat Corpora, Maya Rodale, Tony Haile, Bob’s Red Mill, Amy’s Kitchen, Mark Kintzel, Buy Fresh Buy Local, Nature’s Best, Earth’s Best, Whole Foods and the countless others I’m forgetting, to ANYONE WHO SUPPORTS ORGANIC growing, it’s your turn to spread the word about organic– One Bucket at a Time.

My Facebook Page

Through The Kitchen Window

I cooked dinner for my parents on a recent trip home.  They are older now and don’t get out much– and have stopped cooking for themselves after many years of preparing the most delicious Italian food imaginable.

Cooking for them is both rewarding and daunting.  When I visit, it’s an occasion.  It’s listed on their calendar weeks in advance and confirmed daily when I call.  They are glad to see me and like when I can take care of them. But let’s face it, of the three Cinquino’s in the room, I’m the least accomplished cook, by about 50 ovenlight years.

I serve them dinner, a Pork Tenderloin with baked carrots and baked potatoes and salad. Nothing elaborate, but as I put the prepared roast before them I convince myself it came out pretty well.  I wait for their restaurant review– and as they speak, I learn a little about them and lot about myself.

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What you see through the window…

My dad is gushing– he is complimenting me again and again- four, five, six times.  His voice assures me how good the meal is. How grateful he is that I am there to cook it. How surprised he is that I am such a good chef.  I eat up his approval even faster than I gulp down my portion of the meal.

My mom eats more slowly and takes her time commenting on the food.  I wait anxiously as she cuts her food into small pieces.  She seems to have come to a conclusion after several methodical bites.  Then I hear what I take as her verdict. “I miss my own cooking,” is all she says.

I am crushed like a can of Contadina.  Crushed as only a mom’s critique can crush one.  I feel myself getting a little mad at her for being so impolite. I then turn ever more judgmental, sure that her negative attitude is keeping her from being happier and content with her life.  I think the thoughts that I think she should be thinking instead.   This progression is rapid. In less than 10 seconds, I go from happy to serve them to upset to totally dismissive of what she has to say and blaming her for how I feel.  Of course I don’t say a word, just steam a little.

Then, I take a deep breathe.  What did she really say? And what didn’t she say? And what did I hear?

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…depends on which direction you are looking.

What she said was that she missed her own cooking– and yet what I heard was that my cooking wasn’t good enough.  She didn’t say that I wasn’t good enough, but that’s what I heard.

I grab the knife and cut me up another slab of pig, and something dawns on me.  Why am I reacting like this? Why am I demonizing her response? She was just remembering a time gone by– and all those magnificent recipes and meals she had created over the years.  She realizes there will never be anything like her own home cooking– and that is gone forever.

I sit and look at her across the table.  It’s now clear to me that it’s not her, but me. I’m the one being ungrateful, not her.

She is being honest,  vulnerable and straight with me. I was fuming over a perceived slight.    I had made it all about me.     I had wanted to snap at her and tell her that I’m done trying to please her.  I felt I had to “share my truth” with her and tell her how badly I feel when she says that– how she made me feel so inadequate.  But the truth is, “my truth” is just a myth.  A reaction based on my own programming.  Nothing true about it, really.  Other than it’s true that I made myself feel unloved and put that on her.

As I chew, I start to feel a different truth.  A truth that I am loved and do love.  And when I look at my mom, I see her– and everything between us, quite differently.  I see that she is pleased with me for trying.  I also see, on an unrelated note, that ultimately there was no substitute for the kind of meal only she could create. No substitute for that time in her life.  In our family’s life.

A time when cooking meant the family was gathered. When dishes were links to the grand past of our immigrant heroes who came to America and founded this branch of our family vine.  A time when cooking was both a responsibility (for my mom) and a joy (for my dad).  A time when vegetables were grown in the backyard, peeled on the back step and cooked before they knew what hit them.  A time when her kids needed her to cook dinner, not the other way around.

She misses that.

As this awareness hits me,  my steam evaporates.  I’m once again glad to be there, part of their lives in any way I can.  It is not about me or my cooking, it is about us as a family.

“I do, too, mom. I do, too.”

Unobstructed View

What finally gets you to act on a long held intention?  Is there something specific that finally pushes you over the edge?  From asleep to awake, from sedentary to active, from a body at rest to a body in motion?

For me, the answer is simply getting out of my own way.  When “it” happens, it is because I’ve removed whatever is obstructing me, so that I can do what I am called to do with ease.

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Remove the obstruction, and the result is life.

A teacher shared with me two examples of this.

When we remove whatever blocks our eyes, the result is vision. Be it darkness, a Bob Costas-style eye infection, or a steel pillar at Fenway Park– get rid of the obstruction, and we see without even trying.

The same with our relationships with others.  When we remove what is blocking our hearts, the result is effortless love.  It’s what we do.  It’s who we are.

Yesterday, snowbound without talking in person with anyone all day, all the likely suspects were removed. I couldn’t go for a run.  I couldn’t go to the gym.  I couldn’t get swept up in errands.   I couldn’t blame my procrastination on anyone else, other than possibly Mark Zuckerberg.  I wasn’t too busy. My head wasn’t spinning from too much to do.  I didn’t have a dozen phone calls to make.  My appointments were cancelled. My kids were taken care of.  The snow did not get shoveled.

No obstructions.  The result? My first blog post in about 6 weeks, even though it’s been sitting near the top of my to do list for about 5 1/2 weeks.  To many the snow WAS the obstruction– keeping you from your trips and responsibilities.  For me, the thick blanket of snow removed my obstructions and let my soul do what it does effortlessly, create.

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What’s obstructing you these days?  What is keeping you from you?  You probably know what it is, even if you can’t quite say it out loud.   Perhaps it’s a perception you have about someone, something from your past you can’t let go of, an anxious feeling about something to come.  Maybe it’s a physical or emotional limitation, a boundary that you have learned to live within, rather than try to remove.

Removing it may be difficult, but often it’s actually quite easy.  For me it was as easy as watching snow fall.  And not nearly as much of a problem as carrying around all that intention that has been pounding on my soul, trying to get out.

If this blog were a musical, this is where I would break out into song.  So some bad poetry will have to do, instead.

Remove the obstruction

from the eye and it sees;

from the heart and it loves;

from the soul and it creates;

from the river and it runs;

from you and it’s you.

You.

Once the obstruction is gone, you have nothing to fight against and nothing to hold you back.  Happy St. Valentine’s Day to all the obstructed hearts out there.

Be the river. Run.

Being Santa

There was something different about the Santa Claus at Rodale Institute in Maxatawny, PA this weekend.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I enjoyed watching Organic Santa with the kids, until about the fifth time I saw this exact scene repeat itself.

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There was something different about Organic Santa. And it wasn’t just the funky glasses and off-kilter belt.

“Helloooo!  I’m so glad you made it!!  I’ve been waiting for you,”  called Organic Santa as the next child approached.

The child would do one of two things.  Smile broadly and rush to climb up onto the antique sleigh, or, more commonly, stare in a mesmerized, suspended state of animation that could produce no spoken words as their accompanying adult half-dragged them up the step.

“It’s so good to see you.  Thanks for waiting to see me.”

More silence.  Eyes locked in disbelief and fear.

“Let’s have our picture taken.  My elf Amanda has a camera there. Say cookies.  And carrots. Don’t forget the carrots for the reindeer! Oh I like carrots too.  Do you like carrots? Ho Ho HO.  Wonderful!”

“So what’s Christmas like at your house?” he said turning from the camera’s lens to look the child in the eye and lowering his voice.  Do you put up a tree?”

At this point, the child would generally snap of the SantaStupor, and share her little Christmas scene with Santa about what her tree was like, what kind of cookies they baked and sometimes added a few questions about the reindeer.  (They stay at the airport when he’s in town, FYI).  No one mentioned going out for a run with their parents, but no matter.

“Do you have a message for Santa?”

This is where the beautiful, magical scene of innocence started to break down.  This is where the shouting would inevitably begin.  “TELL SANTA WHAT YOU WANT FOR CHRISTMAS” I’d hear from the child’s parents.  “TELL HIM!  TELL HIM OR HE MIGHT NOT BRING YOU ANYTHING.”

Now, I’m a parent and I understand why this takes place.  The shyness of the moment can soon give way to sadness about not communicating with Santa once the fear wears off on the ride home. As if that was her one and only chance to speak directly to the great man who holds so much mystical power in her life.  No parents wants their kid to carry around that disappointment.  Or worse, have to come back and see him again to give him the list.  So yeah, spit it out and let’s get going to the grocery store.

But to see the same scene, over and over again, made me a little sad.  It was as if the child was already getting exactly what she wanted for Christmas– a treasured moment with Santa. And the hyperspeed commercial volume of the crazy season overpowered that simple, unfiltered joy with a recitation of a mundane list of items that must be acquired as some kind of measure of the season’s ultimate success or failure.

That’s when I realized what set Organic Santa apart from the other Santas I have seen over the years. He followed “The Santa Santa Rule” from David Sedaris’s fantastical, brilliant “Santaland Diaries.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=161Fyi6fid0

In his incredible tale that forever put Sedaris on the literary map, the most realistic and humane Santa at Macy’s is renown not for his trademark beard, suit or anything he says– but for what he doesn’t.  He would never ask what the child wanted for Christmas.  Never ever.  He would just talk with the child and see what was on her mind.  In kind of an odd, ironic way, it is exactly what this Catholic boy thinks I’d want to do if I ever met that other person who is at the center of the Christmas story.   Not ask for stuff.  But to talk.  To understand.  To just be together. What more could a true believer really want?

For those parents who couldn’t badger their kids into reciting their memorized lists, this Organic Santa left them with the same assurance that I want when a moment overwhelms me.

“Tell you what.  If you think of other messages you have for me before Christmas, you have someone help you write it down and give it to this person right here (pointing to the child’s presumed parent).  She knows how to get it to me.”

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Organic Santa checked his list twice, and by the looks of it, this family already has all they really want for Christmas, each other.

So from Organic Santa to you, that’s my holiday wish to one and all.

Enjoy the moments of the holiday season as they appear to you, not for what you think they may lead to.  And if you want something to be known, just write it down and send it out. It really could happen.

The truth is that it’s worked for me.  You’re reading this aren’t you?  Then a little one of my dreams has come true.

Now it’s your turn.  What message is it time for you to share?

Missing

What was missing from this year’s Thanksgiving at your place?

I’m sure some of us missed people who weren’t with us this year. Maybe a pet that had passed away.  Or a certain routine or recipe that’s long been a part of your traditions that didn’t quite happen the same way it did in year’s past.

I thought of a few things: having all the family gathered in one place at one time, chocolate pie (I let my daughter take the last piece– yes, there is such a thing as a father martyr), watching a full day of football, nap on the couch, hanging out in a bar on Wednesday and seeing old friends, playing touch football and the much-celebrated turkey trot. Didn’t get any of those in this year?  Did you?

I can live with those misses more easily than these: missing out on what was actually there the whole time. I missed having more engaged interactions with my mom and dad (both 92 and slowing down).  It’s more difficult now to communicate with them, but when I talked to some friends who no longer had their parents with them this year, I realized difficult does not mean impossible. Same with the rest of my family– they were all there at some point, but did I have a connected, present and personal moment with each of them? I’d say I missed as many as I made.

So much of being with family is like the dinner feast at Thanksgiving.  So much food, so little time.

We enjoy the splurge but it becomes overwhelming and we lose some of the flavor of it all. And it’s not just about being grateful for what we have– too often we never even get to the point of knowing what we have.  Being present for what we have.  Understanding what we have.  It’s like putting the leftovers away after dinner and realzing the cranberry relish got lost behind the green bean casserole and never got touched.

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When we look at life from someone else’s point of view, we discover what’s been there all along.

 

And when we forget that it’s the same way with family, we really miss out.  We lose what we have by freely giving away the time we spend with them.  We get caught up in the logistics of family (who’s gotta be where, who’s gotta behave in a certain way, who’s gotta make sure they say or don’t say something) that even being with our most beloved can’t satiate our need for companionship.  We gossip without empathy, we sit with them without enjoying the comfort of their company, we relive the traumas of the past and anticipate the cringes of the future.  We swing– and miss– at the sweet spot of just being and appreciating.  And by we, I mean me.

That’s the beauty of living the mulligan though.  There’s always today to try again.  In fact, there’s only today.

To My Favorite Veteran

He and his generation taught us how to fight.

Some never came home and taught us how to die.

Some came home and taught us how to live.

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My father, Louie Cinquino, didn’t fight in the war of 1812 fort where this picture was taken. He went to the Pacific in World War II.
Happily for us, he not only came home, but made one.

May we, too, rise to the challenges of our times

And make our homes worthy of their legacy.

 

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Two Louis Cinquinos. The original and the reasonable facsimile.

The Crush of Celebrity

At this year’s Fifth Avenue Mile, held in NYC on September 22, I didn’t really feel the same intense pressure of last year’s race, since I had so much at stake on that day.  This year it just was about trying to live up to the hype that the article created: Mulligan Mile

So I braced myself to take in the accolades and attention that come with a major feature in the world’s leading running magazine. I didn’t want to live off my press clippings, but I was glad it seemed to be getting so much attention and great reviews from people who have read it. And now I was headed to NYC to the very scene of the epic race.  Goosebumps.

So I could feel the power of celebrity from the minute I approached the NYRR offices to pick up my number on Saturday.  I was out for a run without my phone and had forgotten the exact street number of the comely brownstone.  So once I got into the 80s I just randomly asked a guy walking down the street ( ok, he had on a Brooklyn Half-Marathon shirt) and he gave me the location. I am quite sure that’s how Brad Pitt finds things when he’s without his phone, too.   Although the phone that Brad Pitt forgets is the new IPhone 5S, which I watched people line up for all weekend at 59th St. Apple Store, just a short Jenny Simpson breakaway distance from the finish line of The Fifth Avenue Mile.

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Fly, Jenny, Fly

And I was right. I had been in the NYRR offices no more than 80 seconds (my 1Q split time in Sunday’s race—see how I slipped that in there?) and it happened.  “I know you!,” gushed the cheerful gray-haired lady at the registration table.

OK. Well here it comes.  I’m a modest man, but yes I asked for it. When you bare your soul and inspire runners with an article like The Mulligan Mile, you just have to expect to get some attention. Enjoy it, I told myself.

I’d probably have to hear her divorce story, or how she struggles with weight or turning 50.  You know, the kind of heart-warming and touching emails I’ve been getting from total strangers over the past few weeks that the article came out.  It might be awkward to hear this kind of intimate sharing in person, but it’s incredibly moving for me and I cherish knowing I had some small part in getting people to see their lives in a fresh and positive way.

Me: “Oh?” I sheepishly smiled in response.

Her: “I see you running in the park all the time.”

Me: Humble smile of recognition changes to forced grin of embarrassment.

“Oh, yes. Right.”

I hadn’t run in Central Park in the 364 days since last year’s race and had never seen this good lady before in my life.

Her: “Well, it’s good to see you.  Good luck with the race.”

Me: Grin still set in stone. “Yes. Yes. Thank you.”

Her: “See you in the park!”

 Me: Still waiting for my face to return to normal.  “Yes. Yes. The park.”

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Do you know me?

That conversation succinctly summarizes the entirety of my celebrity status at this year’s race.   Luckily I didn’t write the piece because I wanted that, I wrote it because I had to, in order to really process and understand all that’s happened in my journey over the past couple years.

So beyond that success, it’s not a matter of what the article’s done for me, it’s about what it’s done for you, whoever and wherever you are.

Look for me in the park.

Next post, I’ll give more details on the race itself.

Numb and Number

Why do you think that Friday the 13th is bad luck, but there’s nothing particularly dangerous about Thursday the 12th?  One second you are fine, then the clock strikes midnite and you have to watch out for black cats and sneezing your head off.

Numbers also bestow mythical titles upon people like Home Run King Hank Aaron or Ironman Cal Ripken.

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What numbers do you use to measure yourself?
What meaning do you give them?

It’s even worse with us runners.  A 3:59.59 marathon may seem worthy, a 4:00.01 marathon is shit.  A 4:59:anything mile is a dream come true, a 5:01 is years of frustration and angst.  It’s stupid. And yet, there it is.

The clock doesn’t give mulligans.  But we can take one whenever we want because no matter what the clock or calendar says, what it means is within our minds.  What 5:04 (my fastest high school mile) meant to me was that I left something on the table that I think I should have had.  And that could have been the end of it.

But sometime last spring, I decided it meant something else: a call to arms to take back my body and draw a line in the cinders.  And whether I got there or not, I couldn’t worry about that.  What mattered is that I was trying. And when I did that, without fear of failing, the meaning of that number changed.

And so too, the meaning of Thursday, September 12 is up to me to decide. Bad luck? Good luck?

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What are trying to do?
Are you really committed?

I’ve come to understand bad and good are not particularly meaningful words.  What’s good for the mouse is bad for the cat. What’s good for the tree may look bad to the falling leaf.

Instead of good or bad, I’m going with useful.

And whether it’s a time that motivates you to do better, or a PR that builds up your self-respect, or age or anniversary or salary or blood pressure reading or other objective measure that’s assigned a number, be mindful of what meaning and use you choose for that number.

Then make it useful to shake off the numbness, wake up and live.