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Work, joy and Grandpa

It was 5:45 in the morning when we started our run. The odd warmth for November made it a pleasant start, despite the darkness. After a mile, I came to the hill which would serve as my bounding station. Four times bounding up -- slightly bigger than normal stride, using my arms, thinking of my form and trying to keep a smooth and steady pace -- then a light jog to the bottom. 

The first one nearly killed me. The second one was tough. The third one made me want to cry and the fourth one caused me to continuously repeat in my head "c'mon it's the last one."

I had done hill-bounding work on this hill before and didn't suffer as much. But it wasn't so much a physical pain as an emotional one to work through on this particular morning.

On Friday, my grandfather died. He was 88 (and proud of being 88, wondering how the heck he got to be 88) and generally sliding into poor health. After a week in the hospital with a long recovery ahead of him, he quietly decided it was time for him to go home in the eternal sense. Along with the mourning came a sense of joy for him -- that he was finally at peace and at last reunited with my grandmother, the love of his life, whom he missed more than I think I can ever imagine since she passed eight years ago.

And during my long run on Sunday morning, he was on my mind.

Those who run (or bike or swim or do yoga) understand the healing power in exercise. There are studies which document the physiological effects that a run can have on the brain and on mood. Sure there's the cliched "runner's high" but more than that, running serves a a clearing affect on the mind and the body.

Then there's the community effect. Running by myself sometimes feels great -- it lets me wander in my own thoughts, in my own body and enjoy the time alone. But other times, running with friends is just as healing, whether we chat during the run or not. Sunday morning meant running with Sue, who seems to know just when to listen, when to tell stories and when to let the silence of friendship carry us through a few miles.

As our run progressed after the hill-bounding interlude, the sun started to rise, giving way to a beautiful red and orange horizon. And I thought, "red sky at morning, sailor's take warning." I'm not positive, but I attribute learning that rhyme to my grandfather. It fits anyway -- he was fascinated with the weather.

He was fascinated with a lot of things and shared that curiosity with his family. He introduced me to a wide range of things -- from taking me on my first trip to the Buffalo Museum of Science to teaching me how to keep score at a baseball game (and I still use his system in my scorebooks and can not attend a game, even for fun, without procuring a scorecard). My grandfathered loved to learn, though he never made it to college. The second-youngest of seven boys, his father died when he was a teenager and money became tight. Instead of going on for more education, he took a series of jobs. Then came World War II.

Leading his unit through parts of Germany and France became his endurance sport.

Img099 He was proud of his service, telling stories about his unit of combat engineers which traveled about the country, going into areas after a battle to restore roads and bridges. I thought of that during the last part of my run. Not that I'm comparing running out of Chestnut Ridge Park with marching across Rhine in full combat gear, but thinking about his ability to endure made that last part of a hilly, challenging, long run a bit more bearable for me.

Of the many things I learned from my grandfather was the power of seeing a job through to the end. He loved to be busy, whether that was with his family, at work or around the house. He found joy in things other people called "work" whether that was mowing the lawn or taking the kids, and later grandkids, out of the house to give the women a break. 

I thought of his approach to "work" during that long run. There are people I've met who see running and exercising as a chore (hence, in some ways, the term "work out"). But that's not how I see it. It's challenging, yes, but I enjoy it. Training has become one of my passions. Something that brings me joy in a variety of ways both large and small.

Same too with my grandfather who had hobbies that to many others seemed just like more "work" rather than enjoyment.

In the end, all that matters is how you define what you do. And that what you do brings you love, laughter and joy.

The worst part of these last few years for my grandfather was his physical inability to do those chores. The family begged him to just relax, let it go, not worry about it. I mean, really Gramps, you're upset with yourself because you can't keep up with the dusting and vacuuming?

It puzzled me for a long time, but I think I'm starting to understand.

And while his desire to continue with "work" increasingly resonates with me, I also take from him the life lesson he failed to learn -- that sometimes it is just as valuable to rest, to take some time to go inside and to not be afraid of what you may find in the stillness.

--- Amy Moritz
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