May. From beginning to end, completely full of Joe.
The first weekend of May in Cincinnati is the Flying Pig Marathon, and for the past four years Chris has run the relay with our friends and family in honor of Joe. This tradition began because watching the race was always something Chris looked forward to doing with his future babies, and when Joe was born he felt a deep knowing that he would run in the race, not just watch. Now every year we have four beautiful souls representing our little story along the 26 mile love fest that is the Pig. It is truly overwhelming how high the vibration of that entire route feels - the people are all there influencing and being influenced by everyone else, often without even realizing it, and it is such a magical thing to behold.
Last year was the first year I participated in the race. I took the last leg, so I could wrap up the event with the intentions and energy only The Mama Bear could. I made a playlist that accommodated my hyper-awareness of every sight and sound along the way. I wanted to connect to every single thing possible, physical and otherwise. It included “Us Against the World” among a couple hours worth of other heart-opening and emotionally safe songs I enjoyed at the time. I knew I was setting myself up to hear Joe’s song at a potentially random and meaningless time, which gave me some anxiety. My adrenaline spiked every time a song ended and a new song began, never knowing when it would drop. I don’t usually do this to myself, I like to reserve the song for times when I choose to hear it, to experience it in a “controlled” way. But sort of like the Coldplay concert in Boston, I left this one up to fate.
I cried more times than I can even remember. As I passed my family, Chris, Brooks, and Reagan were the first faces I saw. The twins were one and a half at the time so they recognized me seconds before I had to keep running. Kissing them and blowing kisses to my teary-eyed mom and knowing they were all cheering me on as I cry-ran away was the most incredible heart-swelling sense of love. I was doing something hard among thousands of other people doing something hard, because I had already done something even harder, and no doubt so had every one of those other people running and cheering. Honoring the hurt feels correct, and doing so in a way that demonstrates devotion and commitment also feels correct. Running in that race is about our growth and our devotion in our own hearts and in our community. We have THE MOST amazing community.
I went on for seven miles and the song never played. My brother, sister-in-law, and their baby boy stood by to cheer for me close to the finish line and their encouragement literally got me through the end of that grueling last mile. I ran through the walls of people to the end, knowing I would find Chris there waiting for me. And as soon as I came within three steps of the finish line, I heard the unmistakable opening notes of Joe's song. It was another moment when I immediately knew he was there; I immediately remembered I am never without him.
I found Chris and fell into his arms crying. It was the most perfect Joe moment I could have asked for in my first year running the race. It felt significant to me, that I had decided to run after two years of cheering, and this moment told me that it was indeed a big deal.
This year the race was postponed. Chris and I intuitively allowed our intentions and excitement to be postponed along with it, and that felt appropriate all the way up until the day of the race. I woke up feeling the weight. The familiar heaviness that accompanies every new May and every new race day. Going about our present day with two two-and-half year olds doesn’t leave much room for thinking, so it wasn’t until after the twins’ bedtime that Chris sat down and opened a video on his computer from my brother, Mitchell. He had intended to run the relay this year, along with his wife, Chris, and me, and then my mom and my sister and two other “regulars” on the relay team were all going to fill two Joe relays at the Pig. Mitchell and Emily organized a leg of the race for Emily and filmed it as she ran with their son, Jack, while all wearing their Joe On shirts. The video also featured photos of my other family members and great friends wearing their shirts and holding up signs. It was the first moment I realized the impact Chris and my intentions are having on other people. On our people. It was heart-felt and overwhelmingly lovely. I will never forget seeing all of those faces in the light blue shirts. Even our newest member, Murphy, was wearing the Joe onesie that all of his cousins have worn before him.
There are times it hits me harder than anyone else. It comes with being the mom. I feel him and what happened to us more deeply, more torturously, and that can be a lonely thing. I am set apart, I am special, because of my relationship to and experience with Joe. Every moment I am awake I am aware that the thing that makes me special is the thing that hurts me the most. I will never overcome it, I will never be without it. I will only evolve within and because of it. I am so grateful for throes of sorrow because when it comes I yet again get to respond. I wouldn’t want to go back; thank goodness I cannot. But memory traps me, holds me away from now. Now. Right now there is guilt for the things I haven’t done better, insecurity for the things I should be doing more of, images of the moments I spent with him, and every moment we have all come together since then to hold space or not walk through the fire alone. It’s all there at once. And I respond. Sometimes the response is tears, sometimes it is solitude, and sometimes, like this time, it is sharing. I have to share what I have seen, what I have felt, and what I have learned. I can’t know what effect it will have, I just know it must be done.
These are the words I didn’t have when I first watched the video sent to me from Indianapolis last night: I remain unseen for the most part, continuing on in a normal way as everything spins on and on. For almost four years I have hermitted myself more and more, unsure of how to let the wholeness of the pain live out in the open with the rest of the world. You made me feel seen, like the hidden parts were fully in the light and have been all along. There is no thank you note for the sense of belonging you gave me. It changed my heart and calmed my soul. Being here, living this life, is full of cruelty and hardship. But you see me, you see the hardship, and you choose to walk through the fire with me. I am indeed not alone, and I am so, so grateful.