Saturday, January 31, 2015

A New Normal for My Running?

The month of January has been an interesting one for my running.  Thanks to the challenges of work and family and icy roads as numerous snow storms have blown through (and sometimes past) the mid-Atlantic region, I have accumulated only 109 miles in the month.  

Last year I ran 2222.2 miles total.  That translates to an average of over 180 miles per month.  

In fact, I would have to probably trace back to well before my training for the Boston Marathon (so at least to 2012) to find a month in which I ran less than 110 miles.

The first question for me to ponder is whether this is the new normal.  And the second is whether I am okay with that fact. 

So, first, I think it may become the new normal.  Although I do hope to get more like 120-150 miles in each month for the rest of the year.  Those long Saturday runs of at least 10-13 miles will help a lot and they will be much easier to do after ice hockey season ends this winter and even in the early parts of ice hockey season next fall.  So, I don't expect to run 2222 miles again.  But I do hope to run more than 1300 miles.  We'll see where I end up.  So far, this is a year of trying to figure out how to rebalance the many aspects of my life.  And January and February are often challenging months to run anyway.  

Which leads me into the second question.  As long as the reason for the smaller number of miles is a healthy rebalancing--more sleep, more family, more writing, and maybe even more work, that is fine.  If the work is because there is a crisis rather than because I have the opportunity to do what I love that would be a problem. If family is to do fun things together and not some crisis then, of course, that is a good thing.  If the sleep is just to bring myself up to a healthy level rather than because I am unhealthy and my body needs repair then that is a good thing.  And as long as my writing continues to bring me joy that is also a good thing.

And I have been doing more writing, although the readers of this blog will not necessarily see it.  Instead, I am making sure to write more in my professional blog, I am writing for students, and I am writing essays that are not showing up here yet as I try to put together a series that is tentatively called Spirituality by Number.  We will see where that quest takes me.  

So, the new normal of 30 fewer miles a month is just fine as long as I continue to put that time to good use.  

How has your year been so far?  

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Three Weeks In--A Quick Review

So, over the past several years, I have started each year with a review of the goals I set in the previous year and the setting of new goals. This year, I did the same.

What I have not done in the past is to take time to review my goals after a short portion of the year and to assess whether I really can reach the goals I set. This year, at work, my boss suggested that I spend some time reviewing the working relationship with a new direct report just a few weeks after the relationship became official. So, it occurred to me that I should, perhaps, do the same thing for my goals.

I also was challenged by a friend to state the goals as if I had achieved them. This is one way to help to make it more likely I will actually achieve the goal later in the year. So, here it goes. Restated goals as completed with a little commentary on each.

(10) I have run at least four days a week. 

I have monitored my running very meticulously this year.  Looking from Sunday to Saturday as a seven day period each week, I have run at least 4 days in each of the first four weeks.  The goal now is to keep that up for the remaining 39 weeks.

(9) I have baked at least one pizza/stromboli and one other bread or cranberry sauce each week. 

I have baked a pizza in 2 of the 3 full weeks and I have baked only one thing other than pizza so far.  The extra was banana bread.  It was a very yummy banana bread.  I think I can keep up the pizza.  And I can probably make 52 over the course of the year even if it doesn't average out to one a week.  The goal of baking something other than pizza at least once a week will prove to be more difficult.  I will see how close I can come to making this a true statement at the end of the year

(8) I have done something artistic at least once a week. 

Thus far I have only one art experience.  Whether I can get anywhere near once a week remains to be seen.  This is likely to be something that I will struggle with throughout the year.  I am quickly learning that there are only so many hours in the day and with the many conflicting goals I have set I may  not be able to achieve them all.

(7) I have appreciated music more in my life. 

So far this has been primarily through singing at church.  I hope that over the remainder of the year I can have the opportunity to watch my oldest son play music and see my middle son sing and get back to playing an instrument at least once in a while.  But this may be another big challenge. 

(6) I have written at least once a week in my personal blog and once a week in my professional blog. 

So far, so good.  This is just a part of what I love to do.

(5) I have finished Decoding Spirituality—a series of essays I have written and strung together as a book—about the ways in which I have worked to find meaning in the numbers around me throughout my life and the insights this has given me about how others might find meaning. 

I am writing in this set of essays even more often than in my blogs.  So, I am well on my way here.  

(4) I have slept at least six hours each night. 

This is a part of my physical health that goes alongside the running and a part of my mental, social, and spiritual health that goes alongside all the other things I have listed.  So far, I have missed on three nights.  But my average is six hours.  We will see how I can do over the rest of the year.

(3) I have told people “thank you” not just at the big times (like thanking Jackie after my PR in Philly and Lauren after my two person marathon relay) but for little things

I have gotten better at this.  From saying thanks to my kids for basic things like chores around the house.  To saying thanks to Sherry for taking the boys places.  To having composed my first two hand-written thank you notes of the year for my colleagues.  

(2) I have stayed in touch with friends. 

I am trying to do this.  Some comes through Facebook. Some comes through running.  I am trying to make sure I have more in person visits to friends like I did after my race last year and more evenings out or lunches with friends in Baltimore

(1) I have continued to make family #1.

This one is difficult to measure.  But I have driven kids all over the place.  I have attended a hockey tournament.  I have spent time with my parents at the hockey tournament.  And I am making a point to spend more time with Sherry.  Lots to work on to keep thi sup.  We will see.   

Monday, January 12, 2015

Sing Together

For the second week in a row, Father Sam called on the 5:30 parishioners to sing out. He called on us to do this because it energizes the musicians. Then, they are no longer just performing. He commented on how all who are leading can tell the difference between feeling like they are performing and feeling like they are getting something back from those with whom they are interacting. He described it as setting them free.

The power of doing something together is amazing. I always get emotional when I hear everyone in a church sing. It doesn't happy all that often. But last night it did again. Not so much during the mass. But afterwards at another remembrance for Mark. With the simple words:

There is a lightThat can overcome the darkness.
There is no darkness
that can overcome the light.
While all this is well and good--what happens when you have people who don't want to sing along. Or more geneallly act together?  The power quickly fades. The light quickly fades. And there may be aloneness and nothing.  Or there may be an opportunity to take the situation head on, figure out what I can change, and make the changes so that the world will be a better place even with some who don't want to act together to make it better.  

That is where optimism, a clear sense of self, and a clear sense of what I have to offer become critical.   

Sunday, January 11, 2015

45 Times Around the Sun

Yesterday, Earth completed its 45th journey around the sun while I have been alive.  

The day began as most of my days do--early.  by 5:30, I was up.  I ate a very small breakfast.  I did some work.  I took one son to the zoo for his 8 hours of volunteer work.  

I went to the Y.  I stepped on the scale before I ran.  I ran 10 miles on a treadmill.  I stepped on the scale after I ran and I found I had lost between 2 and 3 pounds just running 10 easy miles (7 at 8:13 and 3 at 8:00) on a treadmill.  I got reset for the weight machines.  I drove home.  

I took a shower.  I made omelettes for an early lunch for me and Sherry.  The omelettes were quite good with provolone, capicola, and salami in both and onion in mine.  I took my ten year old to the bank.  I did some housework and had a conversation with my eighteen year old.  He and my ten year old sang happy birthday.  

I drove my wife and ten year old to the Eastern shore for a hockey game.  We kept an eye on the Ravens game during the hockey game.  After the hockey game, we found a restaurant for dinner.  It was a little more complicated to get to a non-fast food restaurant off US 50 than we had expected but we had a pleasant dinner.  Too full for dessert.

Completed the drive home.  Finished watching a TV episode I'd started at the beginning of the day.  And my day was done.

I received many birthday wishes.  That was lovely.  But the day was mostly any other day.

And that is a good thing.  Appreciating each day is critical.  Regardless of whatever happens.  I am alive.  I have my family.  I have many incredible friends.  There is normality.  And the presence of all in my life is more important than whatever event's anniversary is being celebrated. 

Here's to another year of contemplation and insight!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Inspirtation and Meaning in Celebrating a LIfe After Passing

Last night I attended a wake service for Mark Pacione.  St Pius X church on York Road just north of the city/county border just outside Baltimore City was packed to standing room only.  The line of people waiting to say something to Carol Pacione and her family was amazingly long before the service and went for an amazingly long time after the service.  The church was supposed to close at nine.  There were still dozens of cars in the parking lot well after nine when Sherry and I left the building.

I have not been to many Catholic wake services.  But this was amazing.  I won’t claim this is a play-by-play recounting.  By to help me continue to process the passing of someone who was only 60, I am going to reflect on the elements on the evening I found most moving.

First, the church’s worship band played some prelude music and throughout the program.  Their prelude music—when I believe it is appropriate to have as many solos as they might like and the music is intended for contemplation—was lovely.  I quickly noticed that the piano was being played by someone other than the typical piano player these days.  The typical piano player is a wonderful person whose piano playing is usually a nice accompaniment to what the guitars are doing.  The piano player last night is just at a different level and added some improvisations that brought the music to life in a different way.  There may be some who would debate just how much improvisation there should be and how much the piano or the guitar should lead, but my personal preference is for the type of piano/guitar mix I heard last night. 

Second, the fact that the church was full was amazing—because nearly everyone sang.  It sounded like everyone sang even if there may have been a few listeners in the crowd.  That, more than anything else, made the evening an incredible one.  The opening song was Come Holy Spirit.  For those who believe there is such a thing as the Holy Spirit, there was no question of the presence of the Spirit last night.  Before the song, during the song, after the song, the entire time.  This part of the experience reminded me of Matthew 18:20  For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” The gathering last night was much more than two.  And God was certainly in our midst last night.

Third, the singing.  There was a version of Amazing Grace in the program that the worship band has played dozens of times.  And it usually played in a way with at least some of the verses of the original Amazing Grace being sung by a soloist with the congregation then singing the modern added refrain.  While the song started with only one singer from the band, the congregation quickly joined in.  (Not everyone was from St. Pius X and used to the way it is usually done.)  To hear the entire congregation sing out the verses of Amazing Grace with strong voices almost brought me to tears.  I had a hard time holding it together to sing.  But that is what worship and praise music means to me.  Worshipping as a congregation.  Praising God as a congregation.  In this case, celebrating the life of a great man as a congregation. 

Fourth, Father Sam Lupico was on fire.  His homily was amazing.  So much near shouting—for joy!  So much emotion.  So strong a representation of what everyone hopes will carry on long after Mark’s life. Even before the homily, when he read the Gospel he talked about switching from what was listed in the program to a reading from Matthew.  When he began the reading with “When he saw the crowds he, he went up on a mountain…” I knew where this was going.  He had preceded the reading with a comment on how discussion with the family had led to this reading.  I knew what the reading would be.  The Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes.  The Beatitudes that are written on the eight stained glass windows around the church.  The Beatitudes that Fr. Sam focuses on in his homilies even in weeks when we are not reading from Matthew 5.  The Beatitudes that, to paraphrase Fr. Sam, if anyone believed and lived them it was Mark.  Fr. Sam’s homily last night was the closest I have ever experienced to a Catholic revival.  Everyone cried and laughed and shouted Amen and understood just what Mark believed and lived.  It reminded me of a meeting for this year’s youth who will be confirmed at St. Pius X.  Mark had shown a video that led in with “don’t get confirmed, BE confirmed.”  In other words, live your faith.  And Mark certainly did that.

Fifth, there were several speakers who had the opportunity to make comments about Mark after the singing of Amazing Grace.  One focused on how mark was present for everyone.  I try to be present for everyone.  I know I fail sometimes.  But it was clear that Mark was able to capture that feeling of just being there for you.  I have already commented on the presence of the gathering last night.  It was wonderful.  I try to live my life with presence for others.  Being present has a lot to do with being a symbol of God for others—going back to being confirmed rather than just getting confirmed.  That goes along with recognizing God in others and living a life of gratitude when you tell others what you appreciate.  That symbol is a part of my goal (3) for the coming year (I talked about this on December 31, 2014)—to say thank you even for little things.  I was able to put that to work immediately after we left the church last night.  We stopped at the grocery store and I chose to go to a cashier rather than going through the self-check line.  The young man took the time to carefully and thoughtfully bag everything to use the smallest number of plastic bags and not risk crushing anything.  The care that he took was notable and I made sure to say “Thanks.  Not everyone does that.”  And he seemed to appreciate that.  A reminder that there is the opportunity to be grateful to and present for everyone in our lives. 

Sixth, one gentleman who had worked with Mark for more than 30 years including when Mark helped to organize World Youth Day in Denver and then the Pope’s visit to Baltimore in the 1990’s.  This gentleman commented that Mark is probably already on the planning committee for the Jesus’s second coming.  That got a laugh from the entire congregation.  Mark was an organizer. And could inspire others to work with him for the faith.

Seventh, the other thing that many mentioned was Mark’s focus on family, friends, and faith.  I have already discussed faith, the Holy Spirit, the gathering, and the presence that was felt at the church.  But it was clear that Mark also loved his family and was appreciated by many friends.  And the line between who was just a friend and who was part of Mark’s family was a very blurry one.  Everyone there last night was clearly family in some sense of the word.

Eighth, while at the service and waiting in line after the service to give my condolences to his family, I saw so many families and so many youth and young adults whom I had known for the 18+ years we have been at St Pius X—or at least as long as they had been alive.  Some of them I had taught when they were 9 or 10 or 12.  Others I had simply watched.  The passing brought together families in some amazing ways.  And seeing kids whom I have known for so long is always a heart warming experience. 

Ninth, it allowed me to connect with some friends in faith I have not seen for quite some time.  So important at a time like this.

Finally, when Sherry and I reached Mae and then Carol and her family the length of the hugs exchanged when there was nothing to say but “I’m here.”  Mae said “Thank you for being here.”  All I could think of to say was “Of course.”  And when I reached his daughter, I actually had a story to share.  I recalled her running the Chicago marathon.  I recalled both her mom and her dad being worried.  And I recalled the day when she did it as one on which there was tension and a sense of relief and pride when she finished.  She talked about her dad joining her to finish.  I talked about sharing my running with two of my three boys.  She also mentioned not running now as she is expecting and we joked about the very pregnant woman who had run the Chicago marathon and given birth almost immediately afterward.  That joking was a light moment.  But more importantly, the primacy of family lives on in a new generation who were already and will continue to be inspired by Mark’s example. 

Mark’s niece restated something that had been noted in the eulogies—keep saying Mark’s name to keep his spirit and all he stood for alive.  I don’t think there will be any shortage of thoughts and discussions of Mark in the coming week or weeks or even months or years.  And everyone last night will be inspired to keep the vision that he provided for the life of the laity in the Catholic church alive.