I have this fancy water dish for my cat. It’s a motorized reservoir that looks like a miniature water slide. Visitors ask me about it, often with one eyebrow raised, and I explain, “it’s not what you think!” I bought the thing on Target deal-of-the-day a few months ago, hoping it would solve Jenksie’s mysterious habit of splashing, spilling, slapping–doing everything but drink–her water. So this new device keeps water moving all the time and does help curb her finicky habits. And it also, in truth, does filter her water and keep it at a pleasing temperature. Some life.
All that to say this: This morning as I was cleaning my cat’s Petmate Fresh Flow water fountain I realized the absolute absurdity of the situation. I live in a world where my cat can have filtered water, but millions of people live with water that’s unfiltered, unclean, unhealthy, unsafe.
And so I thought, today’s the day. I’ve intended to write about water.org and my race for a long time now. (Essentially since my race on December 4. Yikes.) There’s a lot to say. Get comfy.
First of all, the race.
It was a beautiful day in Memphis for the St. Jude Half Marathon. Too beautiful, in fact. In the middle of a Springfield, Mo., winter it seems sacrilegious to complain about 57 degree weather, but when you’re dressed and mentally prepared for 20 degrees colder, a nice day becomes a handicap. I ran 11 of the 13.1 in a tank top. In December. Unreal.
My time was 2:23:37. Top 50% of my age group and just five minutes short of a PR. Takes all the look-on-the-brightside I can muster to say “and” not “but”…I really wanted that personal record (2:18:23) but I did come in just ahead of this lady named Kenya Smith.
So, yes, I am faster than at least one Kenyan.
The night before, as I was trying to psych myself up for the race and down for sleep, I gave myself a mantra: enjoy every minute and learn some things about yourself. Race day mantras are essential. They give your mind a place to land besides the no-no zones of “OMG TWO HOURS!”, “PEOPLE ARE PASSING ME!”, “I COULD QUIT AT ANY TIME & THE AMBULANCE WOULD TAKE ME TO THE FINISH LINE!!” (By the night before race day, my legs are good. My mind is where the real work happens.)
So here are some things I learned:
Enjoying anticipation can be just as important as starting or finishing. With thousands of people in a race, they stagger start times, so slower people like me wait for a while after the real competitors start sprinting. There’s no feeling like those 5 minutes before a race begins. A curious mix of joy & dread, victory & mystery.
The adage is true: Slow and steady wins one, especially those first few miles. No matter how fast other people go. Other people aren’t me.
I love being part of a community with strangers. Love it. Other runners, the spectators, people who wear their medals for the rest of the weekend…it’s nice to be reminded how connected we can be.
People can change. I can change. My friend Amanda got me a deluxe sample box of GU (portable flavored energy gel), and I was SO EXCITED. This is not a thing that would’ve been true a few years ago.
Vuvuzelas really are a great motivational tool.
Second of all, the cause.
I raised over $700 for water.org, and hopefully raised awareness, too.
Third of all, the truth.
“It’s easy to remain blind about ourselves when we stay within the safety zone—among people who are just like us, in a place that looks like home. We can trick ourselves into thinking that we are far more open-minded and big-hearted than we really are. It’s when we must walk our talk in the complex landscape of a messy life that self-righteous ideals are whittled down into the honest truth.” –Elizabeth Lesser, Broken Open
Above, I said that water isn’t just some abstract world problem. (No problem is abstract, of course, but it’s easy to feel that way. AIDS. Malaria. Infant mortality. Pollution. Fish habitat depletion…eyes glazed over yet?)
These big issues are personal for the people who experience them, but for the rest of us it can be hard to stay engaged without feeling overwhelmed or helpless. And even though this issue touches me deeply, I can’t completely understand. I have never experienced a day without clean water.
And that’s where my book club comes in.
In December we read The Handmaid’s Tale, an allegorical, post-apocalyptic sort of Big Ideas book (society, sex, religion, relationships, men, women, …and Scrabble). So when conversation turned to some Big Picture stuff, like how to engage with the world without being either overwhelmed or under-informed, Amanda mentioned my water.org fundraising. This was the Wednesday before Race Day.
Then one of our newest members, who’s from Kenya and is super wry and straightforward, often challenging our assumptions, said that where she grew up, water was precious. So much so that she’s still amazed sometimes how easily available water is here in America and how much we take it for granted. She used the example of a common practice in her photography class of rinsing prints for 2+ hours in continually running water. Other students just did this without thinking, while she was shocked and rinsed her prints for as little time as possible.
I asked her first if I could talk about her story here, feeling a little odd about coopting something so personal for my “big point” about water. She said yes, and asked that I use her Kenyan name, Aketch. (We all know her by another nickname.) When she first shared her story, I was touched and surprised and a little humbled, to be honest. Like who do I think I am, reducing real pain to a 5k t-shirt slogan or something. I know the problem is real, but I didn’t know it has been real for someone I know. That changes things.
Aketch told me this: “Hopefully someone who reads anything on it in your blog will take the time to see just how precious (and quite rare) water is in some places.” That’s what I do hope. That someone reading this will have a little change in their heart like I did that night at book club.
And that we all keep seeing the light a little more each day, and do our best to spread it. No matter what it is we do.
Running a race.
Cleaning a cat’s water bowl.