Since this isn’t one of my blogs about fashion I thought I’d write a nondescript title to see who was paying attention, because, frankly, that’s what going the distance is about: paying attention to how we feel at any one time.
In the past few weeks, the subject of going the distance has come into my awareness from multiple avenues.
First, let me tell you a little bit about my experience with what it means to go the distance. When I was in high school I was a sprinter. I was not a competitive sprinter: Athletic competition was daunting to me. But part of our PE classes required some experience in track and field.
Sprinting is something altogether different than long-distance running. It’s fueled by adrenaline and the roar of the crowd. The reward is the thrill of the moment. It’s a fast glory. But when it came to doing any kind of distance runs I generally pooped out by the second lap around our high school track. And I’ve always felt some guilt about that.
I recognize that some people just have more stamina. In the Indian health system called Ayurveda they describe certain body types that are built for endurance and others that are more successful in short bursts of energy. The former types are known as “kapha” (steady and slow with strong bodies) and the latter are called “vata” (slight and wiry.) I am definitely a vata type but I’m trying to change. This metamorphosis has been like a zebra trying to change her stripes.
But endurance is required if you want to live long and joyfully. And I want a long and joyful life. So I’ve been studying, and have been made aware of, people and things that endure.
A week ago my husband and I bought a new car. I’d had mine since 1993. The headliner is ripping off, the paint is oxidized, and it probably needs a new drivetrain. But as I don’t drive much – it only has 89,000 miles on it – it has served me well for a long time and it’s still a sweet vehicle.
My car has taught me the first lesson of endurance which is: take it easy. The reason it still runs beautifully and probably has another 50,000 miles on it is because I’ve never driven it into the ground. And I’m not a race car driver.
When shopping for the new car we were introduced to a saleswoman who was extremely knowledgeable and extraordinarily patient. I imagine you would have to be if you’re willing to jump into a vehicle with strangers daily and say, “Take it for a spin.” She was a kapha type.
When it came time to pay for the vehicle, all the computers at the dealership were down. So, we got to know this woman very well. Married at 14, the mother of four children, her husband, who she encouraged to go to school, left her for a younger woman and with no child support. She admits she was very young and naïve. She had never worked in her life. But she immediately picked herself up, got two jobs, and has raised four wonderful children.
Recently, she’d had the devastating loss of her mother who was her strongest support over the years. She explained to her manager that she would come into work but if on some days she felt like she was losing it, would need to go home. Because she’s a highly rated and valued employee he granted her that. And what I learned from her was the second lesson of endurance: pace yourself.
Know when and where you need to expend energy and don’t waste it out of a sense of duty or for temporary gain.
The last lesson was learned this past weekend when I attended a memorial for someone who had been a significant part of our community. His widow, with whom he lived in a different part of the state, asked us to send photographs for our celebration of his life. She will continue the legacy of his work and has told us that she wants to come up and visit with all of us who appreciated him so much.
So, from her I learned the third lesson about endurance: Surround yourself with those who love you and can help you go the distance.
Too many of my friends and family members have lost their partners in the past couple of years. The kind of loneliness that creates is a particularly raw one. And that’s how the theme of this piece came to my mind. It was from the movie title, “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner,” one of my favorites in my youth. Tom Courtenay, the star, enormously attractive in that brooding way of teenage boys, perfectly captured that sense of loneliness.
I believe I was unsuccessful at long-distance running precisely because it required enduring loneliness. It requires the faith that when we’re on the second or third lap the crowd is still with us, cheering us on.
At the beginning of this piece I mentioned that going the distance is about paying attention. So, this is what I’m paying attention to now based on these three lessons:
Take it easy and avoid burnout. I’m learning that there’s something noble and even joyful in this. I probably won’t get as much praise for my multitasking talents but at least I won’t kill myself trying to impress others with them.
This has to do with honoring process instead of being a slave to outcomes. So many spiritual guides have told us that the path is the goal. I think I recognized this intuitively when I was very young and knew how to enjoy simple pleasures. I feel that now is the time to do that again.
You never know when the next shoe will drop. Keeping old friends and making new ones is as important – or even more so – for going the distance.
This is one arena where society rewards us as we age. We become role models for what life can be and we model how endurance is admirable.
What strategies you have come up with for having a successful life for the long haul? What qualities have you developed over time to go the distance? Where have you learned your lessons about endurance? Please share in the comments.