The sky cracks open around five in the morning, pounding rain into the ground. The weather channel predicts 60% chance of rain today, but I suppose we have an early start. In the subdued light of early morning, the rain pouring from the sky hammers into the dirt outside my window and pings off my neighbors’ roof. I have no doubt that half the city is awake in this moment, listening to the steady downpour. Not one car whizzes by the street and I imagine the birds are taking refuge wherever they can; the world is silent but for the rain. It’s a peaceful, steady percussion. Then, as suddenly as it began, the rain subsides; after a few minutes of calm, I lift my head from the pillow to survey Sunday morning.
To run or not to run? It is the question of the day.
Weeks ago I signed up for a friendly 5k fundraiser, for a school I used to work at, to send 6th graders camping in the woods up north. The initial plan was to run it with several former coworkers who I am lucky to consider friends. Over the past 24 hours, though, no fewer than four people have let me know they aren’t going to make it. A snake of panic slinks through my stomach. I sit up. It wasn’t a great night’s sleep—tossing and turning and tossing— maybe a late night snack hadn’t fully digested, or too many reruns of Grey’s Anatomy in the evening, or the recent shift to summer heat and humidity. Whatever amalgam of factors, I feel unrested, and now, nervous.
Few things set off anxiety in me like realizing if I show up to an event, I may not know anyone—or, only a few people vaguely well enough to make small talk for three minutes while working up a sweat on the nape of my neck. My old middle school insecurities can flair up—fitting in, saying the right thing, floating on the edge of a group of people who all know each other—watching them, an outsider. Yes, I do know the teachers organizing the run, and yes, the extended school community is nothing short of una familia, but the realization sinks in to my belly. Given the sudden morning storm, remaining inside with a mug of coffee and reading a novel seems like a nice idea. To run or not to run?
On the one hand, I don’t have to show up. That’s a reality. I can choose what I’d like to do this morning and I don’t have to go if I don’t want to; this is a perk of being an adult. Yes, I registered ahead of time, but I wouldn’t really miss out, and certainly no one would notice if I stayed home. Plus, I donated already, which was the goal, to send these kiddos on their camping trip. On the same hand, I argue back, I made a commitment.
I check in with myself: How anxious do I feel, in this context, about showing up to an unknown situation? Somewhat. Less than moderate, more than negligible. That feels decent. How important does it feel to keep my word in this situation? Important, but not the end of the world if I choose to stay in bed with Barbara Kingsolver.
I check in with myself: What do I want to do? This question gives me pause. The answer doesn’t arrive immediately, but I sit in the quiet and allow myself space to listen. I realize the answer, though it’s somewhat vague: I want to enjoy the morning. That doesn’t necessarily mean go out in the rain, but it’s stopped for now, and while I am tired, exercise would feel positive—as would connection. I can read my book in bed for an hour before the run, I compromise with myself, and I have the rest of the afternoon, as well, to continue Flight Behavior.
It feels like a good opportunity to push myself, gently, outside my comfort zone. I decide I’ll go to the 5k. I’ll remain open to whatever unfolds. Keeping my word feels respectful and I don’t feel overly anxious about facing some social uncertainty pre- and post-race. I acknowledge that the fear will most likely be there, but that’s okay; I can carry the fearful part with me and challenge myself to be friendly, outgoing, and maybe even reconnect with former colleagues. I remind myself that the big picture is to participate in the run itself. While I may feel anxious about the before and after, taking the risk is positive. A step.
I roll over, poke my feet into my slippers, and get up to make breakfast.
At 7:30, I take the train to the beach near the school; some sun is peaking through the gray blanket of sky. I feel nervous, but confident, proud of myself. And you know what? I have fun all morning. I chat with a few people beforehand and compassionately remind myself inside that I am being brave and genuine. It is a bit uncomfortable as I recognize several faces, but don’t actually know that many people. I introduce myself once or twice, and draw my attention to my breath in moments when I want to avoid thinking about how awkward I feel standing alone, hovering next to groups of people chatting with each other. I realize I am not actually alone, and we are all here together to support our kiddos and enjoy the view of the harbor.
Once we line up and an organizing teacher blows the starting horn, I settle into a rhythm of running and breathing, which is my calm. My space. I know how to run—and smile while doing it. It’s fun. It’s just a 5k. It’s enjoyable. Also, I wind up finishing first for the women, second overall by a hair—which, as a designated Fun Run with no timers or bibs, doesn’t matter a whole lot—but I’m competitive, generally, and the race reminds me that I am strong, I enjoy this strength, and running events are positive, healthy social activities for me these days. I love this school and this community. I soak up the positivity and cheer everyone on after I finish, especially the students powering (or limping!) through their first ever race. Everyone is full of high fives and way-to-gos. It feels worth it, completely. Do I have moments of anxiety? Of course. But it’s a day. I showed up. I chose to participate. I took a small baby step of a risk and chiseled another small crack in the wall.