The Piano (with a quote from Wendell Berry, “The Man Born to Farming”)

My husband, a fine classical pianist,
said, “the piano
is a living thing.”

A living thing—not
dead
inanimate
lifeless
or even asleep—but
dynamic
animated
breathing
feeling
expressing.

It must be treated
respectfully, and
reverently.

Let me put it this way:
Wendell Berry says,
The grower of trees, the gardener, the man born to farming,
whose hands reach into the ground and sprout,
to him the soil is a divine thing.

In similar fashion, I respond,
The player of music, the performer, the man born to playing,
whose hands reach into the keyboard and sing,
to him the piano is a divine thing.

–Jan Stanton, 2017

Discerning the Bridge Run

It took me months to decide.  Could I really participate in Charleston’s Cooper River Bridge Run?

This 10K run, a major event held annually in Charleston, draws thousands of runners every year from Charleston and beyond. Even before I moved to Charleston I wondered if I’d ever run (and be able to run) this significant race.  When the April fourth Bridge Run approached this year, I faced a decision.  Would I make this run a reality for me?

Three Months Prior

I began early to train for this run, hoping my progress would tell me whether or not I could compete.  I set a goal to run 6.2 miles by early March, about one month before the race.  I did not make that goal.  I had trained at 4, 4.5, and 5 miles, but had not reached 10K yet.  I began to think that I probably would not run this race, and a part of me felt disappointed, in myself mostly.

One Week Before

Time was getting close.  I needed to make a decision soon in order to register.  So one morning I sat down on my beloved back porch and tried to discern about the wisdom of doing this race.  I asked myself these questions:

What is really holding me back?    Fear, mostly.

Do I want fear to limit myself?  Do I always want to remain in my comfort zone?  No.  I want to push myself a bit.  I want to stretch to a new level.  Yes, I want to set a goal that would push and stretch me, but would do so safely.

Do I have the ability to perform at this level?   I’d done a few 10K races in the past but not with this steep elevation.   I decided to go to the gym and test out my ability on the treadmill.

With the treadmill set at a significant slope, I ran 6.2 miles.  At one point, I had to slow down and cool off, but I did complete the distance.   My decision was made.  I’m going to run the Bridge Run.  I came home, registered, and began to chronicle the thoughts, feelings, fears, and events of the week before the race.

March 28, Six Days Before

It was a hot Monday afternoon when I completed five outdoor miles on my run.  My pulse kept elevating, probably due to the heat, and my legs felt tired.  It was a hard run, but I held on to the hope that I could complete the upcoming race.  I won’t know if I can do it, I thought, until I do it.

March 30-31, Two – Three Days Before

It was the Wednesday before the race when I became sick, fighting some kind of virus. I became concerned because I knew I could not do this difficult run with less than 100% physical energy and well-being. By Thursday evening I was feeling much better.  But I also felt alternately scared and excited.   I was ready to stop thinking about this race and do it!

April 1, The Day Before

That afternoon I went to the Expo to pick up my bib and other materials.  Accompanied by my husband Rick, I enjoyed looking at the various booths selling all things running: shoes, clothes, treats.  Excitement was the mood of the day.

The weather, however, proved to be a concern.  All week forecasts had shown the likelihood of rain Saturday morning, but on Friday evening a tornado watch was posted in Charleston.  No race would be held in threatening weather, and I watched the weather updates closely.  The watch passed late in the evening but rain would be present for the race, making decisions about how to dress for the race  more complicated.  The evening was filled with anxiety.  Would I even sleep?  I did, but not much.

April 2, Race Day

On race day I got up at 4:15 a.m., checked the weather, dressed for the race, ate breakfast and headed out the door to North Charleston, where I caught the shuttle that would take me to the starting line.  This would be a busy race, with nearly 36,000 people participating.

Runners waited in their “corral” or “wave” for the start of the race.  Assigned to a later wave and surrounded by other sleep-deprived runners, I slowly advanced to the start line.  At the “go,” we took off, looking ahead for the anticipated Ravenel Bridge.

The 4.1% slope up the bridge is nearly one mile long, and the longer I ran, the more tired my legs felt.  Nevertheless, I was determined to keep running and I did, though slowly.  What a relief to reach the top and head back down, but at that point I was only half-way finished. I had another three miles to go.  One foot in front of the other.  Every step a closer arrival to the goal.  And that’s how I finished the 39th Annual Cooper River Bridge Run!

Now it was time to sit down and enjoy a bagel and banana.  And that’s exactly what I did.

What Did I Learn?

Bring my own water next year.  Hydration was an issue and part of my struggle out on the course.

Strengthen those quads!  The quadriceps want to be your best friend on that bridge!

Feel good about my accomplishment.    Running encourages me to challenge myself beyond what I think I can do.  Perhaps there is something about the human spirit that wants to soar, transcend itself, and running does this for me.

Enjoy your next goals.  I enjoy setting goals and immersing myself in a meaningful project. Choosing this race helped me move past my fear, something that has never been easy for me.  I can let this memory help me apply this lesson to other parts of my life, reminding me that a fulfilling life sometimes involves risk-taking.

Will I Run this Race in the Future?

I hope so!  This race will always be a challenge that’s waiting for me, calling me to stretch just a little more…and a little more.

Bridge run

 

 

 

Ode to the Live Oak

Is it not a paradox?

How does this tree,

this Live Oak,

with its thick dense trunk of hard wood

anchored securely in the earth,

stand tall, strong and proud

while its reclining, gnarly branches

stretch out and kneel humbly

against the ground?

 

How does it do both?

How does it be both–

tall and proud,

broad and humble?

How does it risk being itself?

So fully itself?

 

It’s anchored,

secure

immovable

grounded.

It can afford the twin risks

of humility and reverence.

 

Maybe someday I’ll hang a picture of this compelling tree,

and on those days when I walk that

precarious tightrope of frailty,

I’ll remember:  Stay grounded.

 

On clear days the sun’s rays stream

through window-like spaces

between its branches,

illuminating the ground below with

a speckled mix of light and shade,

like life, to be sure.  A mix.

 

Maybe one day I’ll sit under its canopy,

be present to its sanctuary-type presence,

and rest in its marvelous contradiction

of being.

Angel Oak 1
Angel Live Oak, Charleston, SC

 

 

April: National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month—and the month is almost gone!  So before it goes, I want to speak, once again, to the beauty and power of poetry.  As I wrote last January in this blog, a number of health benefits come with writing and reading poetry. Poetry has enriched my life and I hope yours, too.

But if reading poetry is not something you routinely do, don’t worry.   You can start anytime, any day, and tomorrow, April 30, is an especially good day to begin.  It is Poem in Your Pocket Day.  This day, celebrated nationally, is an initiative to share poetry with others.  Simply carry a poem with you throughout the day and share it with your spouse, children, co-workers, neighbors or anyone you wish.  It may well be the perfect gift someone needs!

 

Health Benefit: Writing Poetry

We may have lost faith in our ability to write poems, just as we have lost faith in our ability to heal.  Recovering the poet strengthens the healer and sets free the unique song that is at the heart of every life.  –Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.


A few weeks ago I wrote about the health benefits of reading poetry.  Today I write about another health benefit:  Writing poetry.

Writing is a form of self-expression, necessary to our healing processes.  When I’m working with grieving persons, I recommend they write their feelings and memories in their journal.  Whether it be poetry or prose I tell them, “Take what is on the inside and put it on the outside.” Holding grief inside us, keeping painful feelings uncovered and unexpressed, is not healthy or conducive to healing.

Writing poetry, it seems to me, is healing because it takes us beyond the confines of the rational and reasoning part of the brain.  Though important, necessary, and helpful at times, the intellectual aspect of our brain has its limits.  Writing poetry can take us into the deeper strata of our being with its images, rhythms, and colors and can help us discover those parts of ourselves that have remained undiscovered—and therefore unhealed or immature.  Poetry assists us in our inner work, fostering personal growth and maturation.

Though I strongly believe in the healing power of poetry, and of writing in general, it seems that the hardest thing for me is simply to start writing.  I don’t know why I often tend to procrastinate.  Perhaps it’s a matter of inertia. Or fear.  But the important thing for me to remember is:  just start.  Just put my pen to paper and start.

Writing poetry is a way—a beautiful way— to express our truth.  John Fox, poet, author and certified poetry therapist, has done a great deal of work on the link between healing and poetry.   Take a look at the website “Poetic Medicine” to learn about his work, sign up for newsletters, or get prompts for your own poetry-writing sessions.

Beautiful St. Kates snowstorm 2014
St. Catherine University, St. Paul, MN, after a 2014 snowstorm. Photo by JStanton.

Health Benefit: Reading Poetry

One of my early childhood memories includes memorizing poetry, an assignment my fifth grade English teacher required of our class each week.  She assigned the poem and we, the students, took it home to memorize.  She assigned a variety of poems, like “If” by Rudyard Kipling and Psalm 23. By the end of each week, every student had to recite it aloud while our teacher placed a checkmark next to our name, indicating we had successfully completed the assignment.

This practice of learning and reciting poetry is something I’ve always remembered—and valued.  I’m sure it strengthened my ability to learn and to remember. I’m grateful that this assignment taught me about writers and poetry styles. It was a valuable part of my education.

Today science has further proven that reading literature is good for the brain, and reading poetry may be best of all.*  Reading poetry stimulates that part of the brain that is similar to our resting states, such as when we sit and look out the window (something I love to do).  Poetry can also increase our ability to be introspective, helping us to know and understand ourselves better.  This kind of self-awareness, I believe, helps us to grow as mature individuals as well.

I like poetry but I don’t read it as often as I would like.  I’m hoping that someday, perhaps in retirement, I’ll have the time, or more truthfully, make the time not only to read poetry but to live with it, integrate it, and let it speak to me.  Some of my favorite poets include Jelauddin Rumi, Ted Kooser, John O’Donohue, Mary Oliver, Maria Rilke, Denise Levertov.

I often quote a portion of one of Levertov’s poems when I speak to grief groups about hope.  Levertov uses an image we can all hold in our minds and hearts, especially when we journey through challenging times:

We have only begun

To imagine the fullness of life.

 How could we tire of hope?

–so much is in bud.

100_2010

* To read more about poetry’s effects on the brain, go here or to read about the positive .effects of reading literature in general, go here.