This weekend my family took our last camping trip of the season–a final little getaway a few hours north, to Munising and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, before the crush of back-to-school activities and ramped-up work schedules take over. It felt great to head toward the Bridge, to cross over to the Upper Peninsula … and just breathe. There’s something wonderfully peaceful and pure about the air up there, don’t you think? It’s quieter up there, definitely slower-paced. You don’t just have to tell yourself to unplug–you literally have to, since cell phone reception is spotty at best. Given we’re that family, the one with multiple techie toys including iTouches and iPhones and Nintendo 3DS’s, it was a welcome reprieve to just BE. (I think my kids even got used to it a little and while they may not have said it out loud exactly, they certainly didn’t mind going sans devices so they could splash in the Lake Superior swells, catch frogs at our campground, collect multi-colored beach stones, and hike near waterfalls and amazing rock formations. Who needs silly technology when you’ve got living to do?)
We headed home after a few days feeling rejuvenated and relaxed–and ready to get back to civilization and, yes, even cell phones. And I was eager for a run–something I’d planned to do while Up North but didn’t get to because…we were just having too much fun. I figured I’d catch a great night’s sleep and then run long the next morning after waking up in my own bed, and not on the floor of a tent.
Nearing the Mackinac Bridge, I turned on my phone. A message waiting for me stopped me short. My breath caught, my heart immediately heavy in my chest like one of the Lake Superior rocks we’d found along the beach west of Munising and stashed in the back of our van. A dear friend I’ve known since junior high, a mother of three who had been battling for her life in recent months, had died. I had felt this moment would come soon. I’d hoped it wouldn’t, that somehow she’d beat the odds and fighter that she was she’d come out the other side. The last time we’d spoken, a few weeks ago, she’d even joked with me that once she was out of the hospital, “We need to have a night out with the girls, to all be together” after everything that she’d endured. I told her, yes, yes, we absolutely did need that. We would do that.
I haven’t really cried yet about Mindy dying…I think–I know–it’s all still sinking in. I am like this. I process things. Sometimes slowly, always intensely. A movie reel of memories–playing junior high basketball together, writing notes to each other and passing them back and forth between classes, lip syncing and dancing to INXS songs, swapping clothes, sharing BFF heart necklaces–keeps playing in my head. I can’t really believe this same girl is gone. Most heartbreaking, I think of her three school-age boys who have lost their mom. It’s a mixture of happy memories and sad realizations that I’ve been experiencing. I know I’ll cry soon, likely at her visitation later today and funeral tomorrow.
I did go for that long run when we returned, as well as a hard and hilly run this morning. And I thought of Mindy the entire time I’ve run–to honor the beautiful woman inside and out that she was to me and to so many others. As our friend Michele said, “If you knew her, you loved her.” So true.
I wasn’t a runner during junior high or high school–the times when Mindy and I were especially close–but in recent years, as we reconnected through our kids and grew closer as part of the same circle of great girlfriends–she knew how running had become a big part of my life. I think she found it a bit funny at first, this old friend of hers who had become so obsessed with running. But she was always so supportive, asking me what race I had signed on for next. The first thing she said to me when I visited her in the hospital right after Boston: “So, did you win, Johnson?” That’s something I’ll forever miss: hearing her call me by my maiden name. Sometimes she’d shout it–“Hey, Johnson, how in the hell are you?” I can still hear her infectious laugh, see her bright smile that lit up her eyes and made you feel like you were the only one in the room. Just you and her, sharing a hilariously private joke, even with a bunch of people all around.
I ran for Mindy this week, pushing through waves of sadness that would at times overcome me and up hills when I smiled thinking that Mindy definitely was smiling down, encouraging me to just keep going to the top.
I love running for its ability to help us keep moving forward, in mind, body and spirit, even when our hearts are heavy. It felt good and right to dedicate my runs, my quiet time pounding the pavement and taking to the trails, to Mindy. I know she’d like that, that I and everyone else she loved and who loved her would choose to spend their time here on Earth being as happy as possible. I like what our friend Kelle shared on her Facebook page: “When we lose someone too soon remember that you still have today to live big & loud & bold. Honor them by not wasting your moments. Love your pals.”
Like all of us, Mindy went through some rough times. But she lived big and loud and bold, and she inspired so many others to do the same. Here’s to all of us doing the same, each and every day, on the roads and trails and with everyone who crosses our paths and comes alongside us for the run.