Betty Duffy

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Between fatigue and falling down: Rapture!

One thing my sister won't tell you on her blog is that she is a very good runner, has been for many years, placed top ten in state cross country meets, still holds records at our high school and at Notre Dame U. After six children, she's still swizzle stick thin and a daily runner. In an excellent proof of forming a woman to form civilization, it seems her children might follow in her footsteps, as they've taken to entering these charity runs for leukemia and whatnot as a family, and sweeping the top places in every age group from five to forty.

Recently, behind his Mom and Dad (who is also very fit), their six-year-old finished in the top ten over all at one of these events, which, if you know this kid, is rather hilarious, but not surprising. He's not only an endearing little boy, but also some hybrid of tank and steam engine, and it's no stretch to imagine him, head down, face red, plowing full speed ahead to the finish--sort of like his mom.

When we were growing up, my sister was so head and shoulders above other runners in the county, it never seemed like she was working very hard to win, but when she moved into more competitive fields I began to see just how much work went into running how she did. I saw for the first time, in my sister, and in her competitors, running to exhaustion.

I remember going to watch my sister at one of the state meets, where the girl who was favored to win, I think her name was Jenny, ran the first two miles well ahead of the pack, then not one hundred feet from the finish line, clenched up. Her jaw went tight, her legs stiffened. You could see her force a few steps before she fell down. There was nothing to do for her but cry, and sometimes I still do when I think about her. People passed her, my sister among them, and the gal finally finished the race on all fours.

It seems like I was just getting into competitive running at about that time, and I never was very competitive, because I was very precious to myself and concerned about the onset of pain. Sometimes, when running, I'd start to get a little tight, and think about Jenny and pull back--because her crawling across the finish line seemed like one of the greatest tragedies that could befall anyone. And of course it's not, I now know, but back then I only knew one kind of glory--and that was staying comfortable. Also…winning, if the two could be combined.

It wasn't until I had kids that I received my first hint of what my sister gleaned from her endurance--that there's a point between fatigue and falling down that's quite lovely, an out-of-body experience. Close your eyes, keep going, and the body just does what it needs to do with the tacit prompt of mind. I've felt it in childbirth during transition, and every so often, when I think I have no energy left for putting kids to bed and whatnot, somehow it just gets done.

This weekend we put in the garden. I've abandoned a large garden way out back that's so far away from the house that I forget about it, so my husband made frames for three raised beds right outside the kitchen. In the course of the weekend, we turned over a lot of dirt, loaded and unloaded long boards, several old railroad ties that are heavy as hell, and forty pound bags of topsoil. I've felt a little beat up, with scratches on my ankles and forearms from hard to handle boards, sore back, and restless leg syndrome at night. And none of this is complaint, but rather exultation. I got tired, but I kept working--like people who have babies, run long distance, write novels, or become saints.

Back in the days when I tried to write poetry, I wrote down a phrase in my little notebook, "I want to give glory to God without fear." I kept thinking something would occur to me to follow that line, but over the years as I've looked at it here and again, I can't think of anything with which to chase it. It's still a concern of mine, but it's more of a singular concern rather than one impression among many. I want to give glory to God without fear.

In so many of my endeavors (having babies, running, writing, trying to become a saint), I still hold myself very dear.

I keep the stethoscope on my heart for the first murmur of discord, yearning, or unease. I hunt for obstacles and seize on retractions, just in case I need them when my jaw starts clenching, and I stop often just short of that beautiful, out-of-body moment in prayer, in work, and in love. That's fear: self-preservation.

Yet, I've never been left for dead. No one has abandoned me. Should I fall down so close to the finish, I could crawl too, couldn't I? And failing the ability to crawl, my guess is some official there on the sideline would pick me up, give me some gatorade, and take care of the body that succumbed to the pavement. It's only a self, after all. It has a habit of regeneration.

It's not an original thought, but to give glory to God without fear, I do picture the unselfconsciousness of a child in work, my nephew, head down, face red, sparing nothing but the thought of taking the next step towards the finish line. The unselfconsciousness of a child in prayer, putting aside "distraction from the wonder." * The unselfconsciousness of a child in love, to "let your longing relentlessly beat upon the cloud of unknowing that lies between you and your God."**

It's tempting to think of successful people, people who pray often, work hard, or live virtuous lives, as self-serving and smug, but I think, more often than not, the opposite is true. They don't regard themselves too dearly to feel pain.

* "It is distracting, and not for five minutes will I be distracted from the wonder."--(Walker Percy, "The Moviegoer" p.42)

** "Let your longing relentlessly beat upon the cloud of unknowing that lies between you and your God. Pierce that cloud with the keen shaft of your love, spurn the thought of anything less than God, and do not give up this work for anything. For the contemplative work of love by itself will eventually heal you of all the roots of sin."-- (The Cloud of Unknowing p.64)


Robin E. said...

Wow, Betty. You just hit me right in the gut. I was raised to be brave and tough, but forgot how somewhere along the way. I keep seeing obstacles to courage everywhere, but really didn't see that it was only "my precious" that stood in the way. Ouch. And sincere thanks for writing this.

Erin said...

This is a beautiful thought. I love how you combined running and sports and winning a race with that of giving glory to God without fear. The cloud quote reminds me of the song from The Sound of Music -- "How do you catch a cloud and pin it down..."

Kimberlie said...

In my running days, I almost could get to that point, but I, too, held myself just a little too dear. I do recall the feeling of freedom when my body would just move. However, I never really got to the point where I was willing to leave it all on the race course so that I could truly win. I never even saw the need for that. Now I do. Now I am just realizing that God wants me to leave it all out there for Him, to abandon all fear, or worry over pain, and to unite my will to His, and only His. All for His glory.

Thank you for this beautiful post which so helps me to clarify what I feel the Lord has been speaking to me lately.

Anonymous said...

several old railroad ties that are heavy as hell

I know you don't want to hear this, having just done all that work, but I would very strongly suggest you google this before proceeding. Just "railroad tie" and "garden" will get you plenty of hits, but if you want to be more specific the key word is "creosote". The bottom line is: you absolutely do not want railroad ties anywhere near any plants you are intending to eat.

Cinder blocks are a good alternative, although they're sort of ugly.

BettyDuffy said...

Oh, we know all about creosote. Our veggie boxes are cedar. The railroad ties are for something else.

Misha Leigh. said...

This is heartbreaking and wonderful in me. Running does teach me so, so much.

JMB said...

"but back then I only knew one kind of glory--and that was staying comfortable. Also…winning, if the two could be combined."

You just summed up my M.O. for the past 40 odd something years of my life. I only just started working out hard, and boy, is it hard to work out regularly. I have a new appreciation for physical fitness.

Allison Welch said...

What a beautiful post. Let me know when you write a book, I would stand in line to buy it. I used to run, until my joints started screaming at me. Now I do yoga and there is a point in class when we're lying prostrate on the ground and the instructor says, "Now let's give thanks to the floor for always being there for us." It's an en-courage-ing thought.

It's great to be running the race with you.

Hope said...

That line is going to be stuck in my head now. "I want to give glory to God without fear."

Dan and Peg said...

Love this post! Your words are so inspiring to get me on track to do what I need to do...while giving glory to God. I love that we share the same endeavors...except the writing. You are far better at that than I, and I enjoy it very much!

Julia said...

Ahhhh! Most excellent woman, you speak to my heart! (And helped me with dealing with an issue my 16yo is having.)

Thanks for this.

Mary Poppins NOT said...

For me, running has always been impossible. I feel like I am going to puke within minutes, and even when I was young and fit, I was a slow, plodding runner who would gut it out becuase I had to, in order to play my beloved softball.

No, my life has reminded me not of the long distance runner, with grace, strength and power. No. My life reminds me of myself, again, young but very, very nearsighted, going water skiing essentially blind, hanging on for dear life, and praying the driver won't drag me through something so rough and dangerous it would kill me. My only claim to endurance now is that I am still hanging on, and still praying.

Anonymous said...

Another great post, thank you Betty!
Can I second Elizabeth, a commenter on your "On Choice" post and highly recommend "Consoling The Heart of Jesus" is really helpful.
I feel like I am finally getting unblocked in a big way in my struggles over my weakness, attachments, sins etc with this book. Its not sophisticated in its writing style but so, so deep and on target.

Trish Bailey de Arceo said...

Having second thoughts about not writing a novel? (Do it, do it!)

lauren said...

"I keep the stethoscope on my heart for the first murmur of discord, yearning, or unease... That's fear: self-preservation."

That defines me on so many days. And, when I give myself the very rare opportunity to keep going, I get a glimpse of what sacrifice is worth. That eternal joy.

Thank you for another beautiful post.