We have gone to bed by eight, the whole lot of us, the last three nights. It's less of a winter thing (since it is 65 degrees and sunny everyday right now) than it is a response to our tired bodies. Gemma and I are doing a dance with a low-grade cold, Jeff is recovering from an intense physical beating at a Crossfit competition this weekend, and Benen is along for the ride. I love you guys! he pronounced as he snuggled in between us last night to sleep. We were too tired to put him in his own bed. And we were charmed.
So watching my husband compete this weekend was nothing short of a small miracle to me. I've always known him to be an athlete, to push himself physically, to possess a deep gear that he is able to access when things get really grueling that allows him to push forward. I've also know him to be a person that could hardly walk because of an arthritis flare. Both of us have learned the punishment of being up and down at all hours of the night for six years now with children, we've both juggled all the demands of nurturing our family and each other and ourselves, we've walked a tough road. That's not the miracle, nor is the miracle his age (he's 42), nor is it that he performed beautifully after taking two weeks off with a rib injury. The miracle, to my heart, was the lesson I learned about risk, and community, and grace.
This lesson has been waiting for me, building its platform underneath me, playing itself out in so many places in my life, and finally, on Sunday, I really saw it for what it was, mirrored back to me by the effort of my husband.
It goes something like this: we can be gracious as we take risks. We can trust that people want us to succeed and will help us succeed. We can trust that our best is good enough, that we don't have to win the world. We can trust that we will grow, regardless of the outcome, if we chance it.
Part way through his last heat of the day, when his body was clearly very tired, his judge interrupted his work out to correct his form. Failure to correct would mean a no rep count, nothing a tired athlete wants. My husband nodded his head, politely confirmed that he understood the correction, and resumed, using the correct standard. There was nothing but absolute courtesy in his actions. It was all business, he the athlete, doing his job, the judge, doing his job. There was no emotion, save for some mutual respect and support, and as I watched this moment, my world unfolded a little for me, opening a new gate.
As much as I have loved running marathons, bending into yoga poses, lifting barbells in my adult life, my childhood was not spent loving anything remotely athletic. Athleticism invoked such a competitive fire in me that I consumed myself, and it never felt good. It was never about fun for me. It was always, always about being better, or the best. And, of course, because that takes work, lots and lots of work, it never happened, and I never tried. I could belabor the reasons for this, but why bother? The point was, I hated to push myself. I hated the barrage of negativity it unleashed in me. I hated the anger that fluttered to the surface, and, especially as I grew older, I hated the shame I heaped on myself for not Being (Instantly) Excellent.
So I quit. I quit Little League, soccer, dance, horseback riding, tether ball tournaments - you name it. It got hard, or I didn't win, or I didn't understand - quit-o.
Maybe this is why I have, as an adult, loved these solitary sports, running and yoga and lifting. They have given me a lot of room to set small goals, to compete only with myself, they have been easy to think of as Other Things besides athletics: mind-clearing, or metabolism-regulating, or friend-making. They've given me some practice with being kind and flexible to myself, without holding me too accountable to anyone but myself. I've been hiding. I mean that in the nicest way, but it's true.
But as I watched Jeff exert himself, as I watched him bring the best he had at that moment, which maybe wasn't the best he had three weeks ago or a year ago or some other no longer mattering time than the present, I realized I wanted what he had. That calm relationship with pushing himself. The confidence inherent in trying. I wanted a different relationship with competition. At that moment, he was the bravest person in the world to me. I drove us all home that night thinking of him as my hero.
I see now how the community we have surrounded ourselves with - the long (many, many) runs I have taken with friends, the countless days cheering each other on in the gym, the real joy I feel when someone achieves something huge for them - all of these experiences have positioned me perfectly to rethink my relationship to intensity and achievement.
Just days before I watched Jeff compete this weekend, I wrote year-end fitness goals down in my training log. I have held a few goals in mind in the past, but I have always avoided committing them to paper, and I've further avoided sharing them with others. As usual, our gym encouraged us to set year-end goals. As usual, I considered a few and then dismissed them. And then realized that I wanted to do this. I wanted specific, measurable, BIG goals for myself. I wanted the direction they provided. I wanted to work.
The minute I wrote them down I jumped in the car, drove to the gym, and shared them with the first trainer I saw. She didn't laugh me out of the building, or bite her cheek and give me a sideways glance. She got down on the floor and showed me some assistance exercise I would need to build strength in my healing shoulder. She showed me how to do a one-legged squat to strengthen my less dominant leg and increase my squatting ability. She told me how to work my assistance work into my workouts and told me to let her know if ever I needed help. Then I ran a 400 meter sprint ten seconds faster than I expected to, and called it a night. It was just another night in the gym, but it wasn't. It was a moment of ownership for me, in myself. It was a moment of investment, in bringing my vulnerability into an arena where it has always been a struggle for me to ask for help and feedback.
I feel this shift in myself that tells me not only do I want to be accountable to myself, but that I know I can achieve many of those goals. Maybe all of them. This wavering voice in the back of my mind tells me perhaps not. But when I talk back to it, when I look at the weights and times and skills and reps inked out in black and white on the paper in front of me, I realize there is nothing to hold me back, that the voice holds very little truth. I have access to good trainers, I have access to rest and nutrition and recovery. I have a community that strives and supports. And, most importantly, my heart is lit from within, a strong desire to pick 300 pounds up of the floor, to enjoy the process, to welcome failures as teaching moments in this place where my body and my spirit intersect. To see triumphs as a piece of business in the work of living this happy life.
I watched him. This man I love, without whom I believe I would never have known myself the way I do, my hero. And now I am ready, too.
Please share with me what you know about graciousness and competition. I need all the help I can get!