Finding Our Way

I got lost on my run today.

Even though I had a route mapped out in my mind before I left, even though I started from my house and ran through my own neighborhood—a neighborhood I have lived in for well over a decade—I still found myself in a place I didn’t recognize.

This was a new development. Some homes were already occupied while others were still under construction, and even though I didn’t quite know where I was, I kept running—I did not stop. I did not turn around.

I allowed myself to be curious. Where am I? Where will this road lead? I read the signs, and I made in-the-moment decisions. I didn’t let myself feel afraid. I trusted myself to figure it out.

Far off in the distance, I could see a field of grazing cows. I knew that field, and I tried to orientate myself. I saw another expanse of green further to the left. Could that be the park where I bring my children to play? I didn’t stop running to take a longer look. I let myself be uncertain, but my confidence was growing: I could figure this out, but only if I viewed the bigger picture. If I stayed focused on the pavement in front of my feet, I might never find my way.

When I left for my run this morning, I wasn’t feeling very motivated. I thought I wouldn’t go far, but I forced myself to go nevertheless. I return to work tomorrow, to begin the school year, and I needed this run. Every time I run, I imagine that I am strengthening my lungs, that I am strengthening my immunity. Along with my physical health, I know that I am strengthening my mental health too.

By the time I figured out where I was, I had run quite a bit farther than I originally intended. I was also running faster than usual, not a personal best, but close to it. It was all uphill on my return home, and about a half a mile from my house, I passed a couple walking their dog. I had hit a dead zone in my cell service and in the absence of music, all I could hear was my own heavy breathing and the slap of my feet on the street. As I nodded a friendly hello to the passersby, the woman called out to me, “You’ve got this! You’re doing great!” And just like if I were running a marathon, that encouragement from a stranger fueled me the rest of the way home.

This run was the perfect metaphor. The truth is, I’ve been feeling lost a lot lately. Even though I am entering my nineteenth year of teaching, this is a landscape I don’t recognize. I’ve been feeling frightened and anxious, but if I can learn anything from today’s run, it is that I need to trust myself. I need to view my situation through a lens of curiosity, not fear. And above all else, I need to focus on what’s off in the distance, not the minutiae which will prevent me from ever finding my way.

I know that this year is not going to be easy, but I also know that we will get back to a place that feels like home. When we are in doubt, we are going to need to listen to the encouragement of others who remind us that we’ve got this.

Because we do.

And so, to my teacher friends who are also struggling with returning to work; to the parents who question if they are making the right decisions for their children; for those who are finding it hard to get out of bed lately, if you haven’t heard this yet today…

You’ve got this. You are doing great. Keep. On. Running.      

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{photo credit: Melissa Camber-Thomas, from our last run together}