Today I went for a beautiful hike with Elsa, my nine year old Border collie. We live near the state forest in the mid-west and the hiking in May is perfect. After a long, still winter the prairie comes alive in the spring with songbirds, beautiful grasses and fun little critters for Elsa to chase. It’s a time for us to breathe in our surroundings and walk in silence together.
The Ice Age trail system intersects where we hike and it is a popular spot for long distance runners to train. Nearing the end of our hike today, a thirty-something woman with well-defined biceps, wearing Oakley glasses and an I-pod ran past us. I could hear her rhythmic athletic breath at work, and her bouncy long runner’s ponytail bobbed back and forth under a baseball cap.
In an instant, that old competitive spark welled up in me. I couldn’t help but feel like she was lapping me in a training run. After all, that is what I often did to others in the past. I wondered if she thought “Oh, look at that nice middle-aged woman on a leisurely stroll with her dog.”
Before pelvic pain hit me, leisurely and stroll were not words that I used in the same sentence. I was the one that went for long training runs and skied early morning powder runs. I was the one that rode my bicycle through Europe for three months. I was the one that wrangled four hundred pound miniature mules and worked dogs twice my size.
After the runner babe whizzed past me it took a few moments to let the memories of the former me go. I looked at Elsa trotting next to me, breathing with the extra effort that she uses now since she developed a heart problem. She was totally in the moment- soaking the warm sunshine into her black fur, while anticipating the chase of an unsuspecting gopher.
Elsa reminds me of what is true. We don’t get to choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we respond. When pelvic pain moved into my life, I had to regroup and make choices. Choices about how I wanted to live each day and what was possible each day. In the beginning, I was in total survival mode.
The first few months were a daily battle. I felt like I was climbing Mount Everest, and never got past base camp. Sleep became my summit. If I could get a few hours of sleep, maybe I could make it through the next day.
I learned quickly that pain demands efficiency. My days were broken down into hours and consisted of small goals that were signs to me that I still functioned. A good day consisted of getting a few hours sleep, feeding the dogs and horses and my husband, Keith. If my pain was tolerable, then sleep was possible.
I also noticed that I needed to put the superficial relationships in my life on hold. I stopped accepting phone calls from certain friends. I stopped responding to unnecessary emails. Recently, I put out emails alerting friends that I was turning my phone off and checking out for a month. I used to joke with my old soul friends, that my life was now like the show “Survivor” and I was kicking people off my island.
My island is my home and I’ve created a nurturing place. My island is my family, a few close friends and my animal companions. I am no longer that runner babe. I am no longer riding my horses. I meditate. I take long leisurely walks. I am learning how to breathe. Really breathe. I am learning to live with pain each day. I am learning to live with uncertainty. I am learning to relinquish.
I am learning to go deep into that divine place that John O’Donohue; a Celtic philosopher calls the “inner landscape”. He says that our bodies are temporary residences for our soul. Perhaps my soul has been asking me for a gentler home and I intend to honor that request. Maybe I should have listened sooner.