This photo was taken almost 4 years ago, and although its true that memories fade, and although you can't see my face in the picture, I'm pretty sure I was smiling. The dirt alone was enough to make a person cry, for heaven's sake, never mind the blisters, but I was grinning from ear to ear. I took this picture of my feet on the second day of the Boston 3-Day For the Cure, a 60-mile walk aimed at raising money and awareness to combat breast cancer. This was the first weekend in August, 2007 and it was 104 degrees. I don't think anyone's feet were made to sweat that much - so, yup - we got blisters - and heat rash - and sun burn. But no one that I encountered over those three days - and there were about 2,000 of us - no one, was whining. Why? Because the people of "The 3-Day" are a rising tide that inspires and lifts us all. I had never before been around that many strong, selfless, gracious and determined human beings in one place. The spirit of The 3-Day is infectious and I hope this blog will continue its spread. Maybe by talking about what I go through to fundraise and train for a 3-Day event, I can help people stay motivated and committed. I am proud to be associated with this cause. I am grateful I have the strength to walk. And I'm filled with joy that I can do it with such a great group of people. So I'll buck up and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Feel free to join me. But remember; no whining allowed!

Monday, August 30, 2010


Oh, stop gagging. You've all seen feet before. Some of you have had feet in far worse shape than this.

This pic was taken almost a month to the day after the 2010 Boston 3-Day for the Cure. Back in 2007, I was pretty puzzled when my feet started to peel a couple of weeks after The Big Event. Now I kind of plan on it. I've heard from several other people who experience the shedding of skin from the feet anywhere from a week to a month after they return from the 60-mile walk. There are enough of us that we've actually coined a quasi-technical term for it - The Foot Molt.

According to the Webster's New World Dictionary that sits on my computer table, it's an appropriate, if non-traditional, use of the word "molt." Except by "New" World Dictionary in this case, I think we mean "Old" since it is the circa 1980 dictionary my husband threw into a hatchback and took off for college with. The back cover is gone and the front cover is ripped but it retains the still-legible gold sticker that says, "#1 Bestseller!" It's an interesting snapshot of times gone by if you take a few minutes to flip through.

It doesn't have "exfoliant" in it, or "longneck" or "mosh pit" or some other words I would consider 80's classics, like "mullet." So it certainly wouldn't include the likes of "avatar," or "metadata," or "locavore," much less "de-friend" or the other latest additions. But it gets the job done for the basics, like "molt," which has apparently been around since the 14th century. It comes from the Latin word "mutare" which means "to change" but its specific meaning is, "to shed (skin, horns, etc.) in preparation for replacement by new growth."

As I consider the word, I think about how much I have "matured" and "changed." I was reminded of it yesterday, at the beach of all places. We staked out our usual tract of territory near Lifeguard Chair #5. It's a pretty homogeneous spot. Everybody has practically the exact same stuff - chair, blanket, umbrella, rolling cart full of sand toys, cooler. I actually sat in a chair that wasn't mine; it was just identical to mine and it belonged to a woman who was about my height and age and who had a daughter the age of my son. That's right; it's not just our stuff that looks the same - The parents all look just alike too - Every mom is either in a cover-up, long board shorts or a swim suit with skirt attached to conceal a spreading derriere. And we all have a wide-brimmed hat to protect an aging face from the sun. We all sit comfortably and chat, confident that the minute any middle-school aged kid paddles a foot too far on their boogie board, the lifeguards will be blowing their whistles.

After the kids got settled in yesterday with their cousins, I took a walk down the beach. South of Chair 4, things start to look a little different. It's a younger crowd. And leaner. And the suits are skimpy. Everyone is tan and tattooed and while they all have on big sunglasses, no one has on a hat. There are fewer children and lots more surfers. Sure there are three lifeguards posted on Chair #2, but it's much more of a free-for-all. Back when I was a newlywed, in my mid-20's and smokin' hot, having just moved to Rhode Island, this was where I spent every summer weekend. Chair #2 at Narragansett Town Beach. Back then, you could park on the street and walk down. I would just bring a book and a towel and I'd be set for the day. If you wanted to be seen, this was where you came. Everyone driving by and everyone walking on the sea wall could look down toward Chair #2 and there you would be. Without a care in the world. We ate French Fries and didn't re-apply sunscreen. The only thing we had to keep up with was the car keys as opposed to the best bucket for making sand castles, and someone's favorite swim goggles and that little baggie of Teddy Grahams for snack time.

Meanwhile, back at Chair 5, our staked out swathe of beach is hidden behind the pavilion beyond the parking lot, very close to the rest rooms and the frozen lemonade stand and there is no surfing allowed. We have a whole bag just for sunscreen, labeled by the body part it should be applied to and once every hour, we drag somebody out of the water and slather them with it. Yeah, it's different up here.

As I walked back to our spot, I thought about how those lifeguard chairs seem to mark the stages of our lives - moving up the beach; up through the years, arriving at a comfortable spot where we can sit and chat and see our children close and safe and watch the waves come up and go back out. I can see how much I have changed and matured. And I know that I have grown, too. Yes, in the spreading derriere, but also in the very best sense of the word. And if my feet or any other part of me has to molt to accommodate that, then it's OK by me.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Up Side

I have enjoyed Mary Elizabeth Williams' writing over at and other places for a long time. Yesterday, her column heading read "The Upside to Cancer." You see, on Friday, August 13, she announced in her column that she had just been diagnosed with malignant melanoma and yesterday's oddly titled piece was the follow-up. I encourage everyone to read it because it's poignant and uplifting while still maintaining her trademark "don't f#@* with me" attitude. It concludes with the statement (spoiler alert for those about to check out the link) "I'm so lucky, I wouldn't trade places with anybody in the world right now."

Since her diagnosis, Ms. Williams had been so overwhelmed by the out-pouring of support that she genuinely felt like the luckiest person in the world. She had the privilege of being reminded that she has strong and enduring relationships with people that she cares about and that's what really matters. She also had the opportunity to confront the kindness of strangers head-on and feel that power. People have a way of reaching out when they know something is wrong. It is universally true as there is evidence of it every day. I have rarely met someone who will dispute it. But for some reason, many of us put on a brave face each morning and pretend there is nothing we need.

When we face something truly dire, we tend to have a small inner circle of people we share it with and count on for support. That's great. And it works most of the time. But imagine how much more support we would get if we were just honest with everyone. And imagine how many other people we could help by allowing them to see that they are not alone in whatever sickness or sorrow they face.

There is a "Like" button on Facebook for the statement, "Be kinder than necessary, because everyone you meet is fighting some sort of battle." It's so true. I am the first to admit that I have made presumptions in the past about people who appear to have it so easy, only to find out later what was really going on behind the scenes. I've realized that just because someone is perfectly put together everyday and always on time and drives a clean car and wears lipstick and earrings even to the gym, that there isn't something horrendous going on at home. They or someone they love could be sick or afflicted, or addicted or violent or on the brink of bankruptcy. The worry and concern over those things could consume every ounce of their energy and mental prowess and yet they still put on the brave, normal face for the outside world. I don't know what drives us to do this, but we all have.

A man who comes into my office for various things from time to time stopped in to chat a few weeks back. Turns out he had just started training with a group of 12 guys to participate in an endurance event to raise money for cancer research. (Small world) We got to talking about cancer in general terms and he said that he believes that "everyone has cancer." I believe that means he ascribes to the theory that we all have cells that mutate and replicate but most of the time, the bizarro cells die or our bodies fight them off before they can spread as cancer and make us sick.

I didn't discuss this with him at the time, but I assigned a second level of meaning to his comment. I equated it with the Facebook "Like" button. We are all struggling with something; we all have some burden to carry; some battle to fight or atrocity to endure. Whatever it is that is weighing you down, making you feel tired or angry, sapping your emotion and understanding, requiring you to put on your brave and normal outfit every day, that's your clump of mutated cells whether it's "cancer" or not.

A very wise friend said to me once (and you know who you are) that if we all stuffed our problems in a box and lined them up along the wall, we'd go up and pick our own. Of course that's true. When we really consider what others are facing, our situation tends to take on a new, more manageable perspective. If M.E. Williams could be perfectly healthy but be completely devoid of the countless friends and family members who are there to provide "whatever she needs," I believe her when she implies she would opt for her current situation.

I'm pretty lucky. My box is a shoe-box alongside some of you with the one the fridge was delivered in. I'd like to suggest that we consolidate some stuff into one giant box that we share. We can start by being a little more open and honest. I'm not saying that when someone asks, "How's it going?" we should all respond with "Suckish at the moment actually. . . . ." But we shouldn't be so obsessed with keeping up appearances either.

About a year and a half ago, I had the opportunity to meet the Bishop of the Diocese of Providence. As we concluded our conversation, he said to me, "Well, I'll be praying for you. And I hope you'll pray for me, too." It was a revelation for me. Just because you're a Priest or a Bishop doesn't mean you're all set with that. You still need strength and resolve and well-wishes and health and solace and all those things that all humans need. It's just not safe to ever assume that anyone is all set; that they have everything they need; that there's nothing you can do for them. Because there's almost always something you can and should do. Even if it's so simple as just being kinder than necessary.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

eat pray love walk drink pee. . . . .

With the release of the new Julia Roberts movie this weekend, I couldn't resist writing about "Eat Pray Love." I liked Elizabeth Gilbert's book; I really did. The story is a delicious adventure and you couldn't ask for a more engaging voice. And being of a certain age, I could relate to the mid-life search for meaning or, as she calls it, a relationship with the divine; the creeping need to understand yourself, your life, and your purpose and to finally feel like you have experienced all that the world has to offer.

As much as I enjoyed reading about Ms. Gilbert's far-flung adventures though, I have to point out that as many of us reach that juncture of having to figure out how to spend the second half of our lives, we choose to go a very different way.

For those of you who haven't read the book - the following is a plot summary for the up-coming movie:
"Liz Gilbert (Roberts) had everything a modern woman is supposed to dream of having - a husband, a house, a successful career - yet like so many others, she found herself lost, confused, and searching for what she really wanted in life. Newly divorced and at a crossroads, Gilbert steps out of her comfort zone, risking everything to change her life, embarking on a journey around the world that becomes a quest for self-discovery. In her travels, she discovers the true pleasure of nourishment by eating in Italy; the power of prayer in India, and, finally and unexpectedly, the inner peace and balance of true love in Bali." (Written by Sony Pictures; Captured from IMDb)

First of all, let's not ever forget about those who never get to "search for what they really want in life." There are those among us who only get to search for a way to handle what they have been dealt. What some people want most is simply to live long enough to see what the rest of it might bring. There's no quest; no need to arrive at a particular destination by a certain age; there's only the need to hope and endure. Let's not forget about them. So when some critics call Ms. Gilbert "whiny" or "narcissistic," as much as I enjoy the ride when I read about her travels and travails, I kind of agree. And when I really start to think about it, I agree a lot!! So let's break it down. . . .

I think any 3-day walker will tell you that you don't have to journey around the world to step out of your comfort zone. You don't even have to go as far as one of the 15 cities in the Continental US that hosts a 3-Day event. You only have to commit - Think about when you first decided to participate. You agreed to walk 60 miles. That was way out of your comfort zone. The first time you did a 15 or 18 mile training walk - you may never have been more than a few miles from your house, but you were probably WAY out of your comfort zone. (Much more so than a professional writer who has traveled extensively who plans a long trip and agrees to write about it, right?!)

Pleasure doesn't have to come from indulging your senses. In fact, it may be far more gratifying to let it come from having done something for someone else rather than yourself. Some of you might be familiar with the Leo Rosten quote about the purpose of life. (If you have read The Underground Guide to the Breast Cancer Walks, then I know you have seen it - that's available from the 60 Mile Men). Anyway, to paraphrase, Rosten says the purpose of life is not to be happy, but to be useful - to have it matter in the end that you lived at all. I am all for self-discovery and I believe in living an examined life. That's part of the reason why I blog. There are times when we need to sit still. But then there are times when we need to act. To stand up and make a difference. Sometimes our contribution requires us to cast aside our own desires. I personally don't have a problem with that. I suspect you don't either.

Regarding Ms. Gilbert's other discoveries, I think we probably realize already that one doesn't have to roam away to a remote Ashram to pray. If Ms. Gilbert has the luxury of spending hours at a time looking for the light of clarity, more power to her. But my hectic life has demanded that I learn to pray on the fly; in the shower, driving the car, you name it. I don't know about you, but I actually pray best in my own bed. Literally, each morning before I get out of it. Gratitude first (Thank you for another day) - then solicitation (Watch over us and keep us safe). I'm no theologian or spiritual sojourner, but I can't imagine how much more in the prayer department you really need. There is Grace at work in my life every day. Maybe I'm just fortunate to be able to see it without spending all my time looking.

As for inner peace and tranquility? Sure it can come from true love - for everyone who has found their soul mate and gets to close their eyes tonight in that bliss, know that you are blessed. But there is another kind of love that brings just as much tranquility. It's a broader, expansive, all-encompassing kind of love - the kind we should all have for each other - the kind that binds us and makes us want to be better people. Real love means feeling the hurt when others bleed and crying when others feel sorrow. It means we want to stop the pain for every one because it pains us all. Genuine compassion and empathy beats pleasure and romance hands down when it comes to changing the world.

Elizabeth Gilbert has touched many lives with her writing. She started a self-re-invention movement that has helped countless people (especially middle-aged women) define what they want their lives to mean. I'm sure it matters that she has lived and I don't want to disparage her literary achievements. But I don't want women to put on sandals and flit off to some island or start sitting criss-cross-applesauce muttering their mantra for hours on end either. I would much prefer that we keep doing what we are doing. Put one foot in front of the other. Transformation is available to everyone at this slow pace. Be kind. Don't whine. Help where you can. Be useful. Love and be loved. Stand for something. Sacrifice. Show gratitude. Recognize grace. Congratulations! You found yourself.