Remembering Mom on her 75th Birthday

This story was originally published on my run! story project site.

march 5/5 MILES

59 degrees
mississippi river road path
15 mph wind

If my mom were alive, today would have been her 75th birthday. She died in 2009, from pancreatic cancer. She was a runner. Well, more like a jogger. She jogged regularly for decades, sometimes alone, sometimes with my dad. She was slow and steady and rarely ran in any races, just a few charity runs. She started in 1977, when I was 3 and she was 36.

I never talked to her about running, or if I did, I don’t remember any specifics from our conversations. Did she ever try to talk to me about it? Now that I’m an enthusiastic runner who loves to talk about running—where I run, who I encounter on my runs, how I feel on my runs, what parts of me hurt after my runs, what I listen to on my runs, what my times are on my runs—it’s hard for me to imagine her not wanting to talk about running and share her stories with me. Was I just not listening? Or, was she not as obsessed with running as I am?

Regardless of whether or not she talked with me about running, the fact that she ran was always there, a constant in my life as a kid, even as we moved from the North to the South and then to the Midwest. One of the ways I still picture the non-sick her–over 10 years after she got sick and 6 years since she died–is in her running clothes.

Random Running Memories of Mom, a list

  • She started running at the Paavo Nurmi Gym at Suomi College (now Finlandia University) in the 1970s. I remember tagging along (with my 2 older sisters) and sitting in the bleachers. I got my first kiss from Kiefer during on of her runs.
  • In the early 80s, she ran in rural North Carolina, after teaching all day at a junior high school. At least once, I tried to go out running with her. I couldn’t keep up, so she went ahead. Alone, on my way back home, I got trapped by a barking dog that was roaming the neighborhood.
  • In 5th grade, while biking recklessly on the road, I ran into a pick-up truck–I hit the truck; it didn’t hit me. My friend Sharla biked home and told my sister. She quickly got in the car and went looking for my mom, who was on her afternoon run. She rode with me in the ambulance, still wearing her running clothes.
  • My parents liked to go out running early on Saturday mornings. When they got back, they’d rush off again to go out for breakfast. I was rarely asked or allowed to go with them to the restaurant, which was fine with me because I hate breakfast food.
  • When we moved to West Des Moines, we joined a fancy health club: 7 Flags. My mom would run on the track while I used the rowing machine.
  • I went along with my parents only once on one of their runs. It was 1997, when I was 23 and they were both 56. It was on the recently redone waterfront in Houghton, Michigan. They ran; I walked. Their pace was slow enough that I could keep up while briskly walking.

Mom stopped running sometime in my 20s, years before her pancreas shut down and she had to have surgery and then chemo that only temporarily saved her life. It was also years before I started running. I never got to talk to her about how it felt to run for 20 minutes without stopping for the first time. Or experience her joy in witnessing the return of the physical Sara, the Sara that, in my late 20s, had been replaced with the intellectual Sara who thought too much and moved too little.

I wanted to take her on my run today. To imagine her beside me as I traveled on the bluff, above the Mississippi River. I couldn’t. My mind kept wandering back to the mechanics of my run–how was my heart rate? is my right knee doing okay? am I going too fast? But, that’s okay. I don’t need to imagine her beside me; she’s already always there. Not so much as a running partner, but as one of the reasons I run. I run because it’s something that I can share with her even though she’s dead. And I run because I know it would delight her and make her so proud that I’d found my way back to the physically confident Sara I had once been.

More quirky vision

In my ongoing efforts to document and communicate my experiences with a degenerative eye disease, I want to add to the list I started in my last blog post.

My Quirky Vision, a list continued

  • When I go to pick up my daughter from basketball practice, even when I’m wearing glasses, I can’t pick her out from across the gym.
  • Watching my daughter’s basketball games and my son’s swim meets is very difficult and exhausting. I can follow most of it, but it’s all a bit blurry.
  • In general, I avoid eye contact with people; I’m afraid that I should recognize them, but I won’t be able to. I feel awkward looking at them too long, trying to figure it out. Of course, this awkwardness is exacerbated by my introversion.
  • I also avoid eye contact because looking directly at people’s faces is difficult. They’re out of focus, which tires my brain as it tries to make sense of what I’m seeing.

Words like “fuzzy” or “blurry” or “out of focus” don’t seem to quite capture what my vision feels like to me. I should read some more accounts of other people’s vision problems. It might help me to express my own experiences more effectively.

My Quirky Vision

This weekend I came across a blog about running and low vision. The author/blogger has Stargardt’s, which is similar but a bit more extreme than Best’s, which is what I have. In 2012, as part of an effort to educate others on her experiences as legally blind, she tweeted about her blind moments or, her “brief, or sometimes not so brief, lapse, of sight,” using #blindmoments. She also wrote about it on her blog: Blind Moments

Her effort to document these moments has inspired me to try and document my own quirky vision moments*. I’m starting a list in this post. When I can figure out where I want to put it, I’ll turn it into a page.

*After reading through the below list, I’m not sure if these count as “moments.” Maybe quirky vision examples?

List! My Quirky Vision

  • I can still read out loud, but it takes a lot longer and I often trip over words.
  • Reading cursive ranges from difficult to nearly impossible.
  • I can hardly (if at all) see anything that has low contrast.
  • I can rarely catch a ball.
  • I don’t always see the cursor and can spend several frustrating (and frantic) minutes searching for it on the computer screen.
  • I usually severely under fill glasses because I can’t see the top of the liquid filling up in the glass. Or, I overfill and spill.
  • When I’m waiting at a stoplight, I sometimes lose sight of the light, even when I’m trying to keep focused on it.
  • Quite often, I can’t read the credits for a tv show, especially credits that move very fast.
  • I miss out on a lot of what is going on in tv shows because of how fast the action is happening.
  • I rarely get sight gags in tv shows (like “modern family”) because I don’t see them.
  • It takes a tremendous effort for me to read big letters, like the white ones in this image:

In fact, to read these letters, I had to cup my hands over the top of my eyes and very slowly read the words. It was very difficult.

The Cultural Revolution

When I was 14, I read Pearl S Buck’s The Good Earth. It changed my life. I became obsessed with China, reading as much as I could about it. At one point in high school, I could boast that I owned all of the books that they sold in the Chinese history section at the local Barnes and Noble (about 2 dozen).  Not too long after I read The Good Earth I discovered Life and Death in Shanghai on my mom’s bookshelf. While I continued to read broadly about the history of China, this account of being imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution as a political dissident stuck with me and I gave special attention on the Cultural Revolution.

Throughout high school, I read about Chiang Kai-Shek and Mao Zedong, Madame Mao, the Gang of Four, the Red Guard and the “Let 100 Flowers Bloom” campaign. What happened to that obsession with China? I think my vision of devoting a scholarly life to Chinese history and/or politics was derailed when they didn’t offer Chinese at my high school; I had to settle for Japanese instead. Which I did and then went on to minor, almost major, in Japanese Studies in college and study abroad in Hirakata City, midway between Osaka and Kyoto. That dream slowly died as my interests in history shifted to religion, theology then ethics, and I discovered feminist theory during my junior year. 

Now, 25 years out of high school, my knowledge of Chinese history is shaky. But, the interest in it is still there. Every so often I read something about the Cultural Revolution that reminds me of how Sara, age 14 was fascinated with (and horrified by) dictators, oppressive regimes, anti-intellectualism, rebellion against tradition, secret police and corrupt governments. hmmm…maybe it’s not just reading about the cultural revolution that makes me think about this in 2017…

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been reading Do Not Say We Have Nothing, a 2016 novel that was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize. So good!

Master storyteller Madeleine Thien takes us inside an extended family in China, showing us the lives of two successive generations—those who lived through Mao’s Cultural Revolution and their children, who became the students protesting in Tiananmen Square. At the center of this epic story are two young women, Marie and Ai-Ming. Through their relationship Marie strives to piece together the tale of her fractured family in present-day Vancouver, seeking answers in the fragile layers of their collective story. Her quest will unveil how Kai, her enigmatic father, a talented pianist, and Ai-Ming’s father, the shy and brilliant composer, Sparrow, along with the violin prodigy Zhuli were forced to reimagine their artistic and private selves during China’s political campaigns and how their fates reverberate through the years with lasting consequences.

W.W. Norton and Company

Storytelling is central to the book and to the survival of the families through the copying, retelling and distributing of The Book of Records. (For more on the power of storytelling and music, which also is central to the story, check out this review: What could resist the Red Guard? Music and Storytelling.)

I’d like to think more about storytelling and resistance in this book. So many interesting ideas about it. Like, the fact that the Book of Records is always only a copy of a story by an unknown author (a copy of a copy) and that every time it is copied (which is a lot), the story is slightly different. Or like how the copies are used to send secret messages; the copier adds details that only the intended receiver would recognize as clues, hints and/or directions.

Through the process of writing this post, I’m realizing that my interest in the Cultural Revolution and stories about China, is not really random or unusual compared to my other interests in ethics, storytelling, troublemaking and feminist and queer theory. The common thread: I’m drawn to stories/accounts of resistance, survival and impossible/unrealizable/tragic hope. So many of the accounts that I read about The Cultural Revolution were stories of resistance, providing me with possible answers to the questions: In the face of intolerable conditions, where hope seems lost and survival impossible, how do people manage to survive? What enables them to resist, to refuse to give in, to hold on to hope or at least the belief that they must persist, must keep on living?

I’d like to think some more about these ideas. They are an important part of my intellectual history and connect all my Saras, from Sara age 14 through Sara age 42. 

Bonus: While looking through my Safari Reading List, I discovered a link to an interactive story about the Cultural Revolution that I had added some time ago:

Voices from China’s Cultural Revolution

it’s 2017, time for a new story project

I’m still working on my intellectual history project, but I’m a bit stuck as I figure out what to do with it next and how to move forward with it in light of the super shitty post election U.S. While I think about that, I’m embarking on a new story project about running and training for a marathon. It’s called Run! (which is a reference to the women with a British accent on my Couch to 5k app in 2011 who would signal the start of each run segment by urgently declaring, “Run!”). Here’s what I wrote about it on my about page:

On October 1 2017, I will be running the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon. My first marathon. I’ve been running since June of 2011 and finally feel ready to take on the distance. As part of a celebration and sustained focus on running, and to help keep me inspired and motivated over the long months of training, I’ve decided to embark on a new story project about running.

Inspired by Poverty Creek Journal, which I just finished reading, this story project is structured around a daily log of my training. As I briefly record some details of my run, I hope to add in reflections on running, reading, writing, thinking, feeling, engaging, surviving (post-2016) and being/becoming.

The project also includes my running stories and a resources page where I’m archiving books, movies, blogs, articles and more that shape my process (mentally, physically, emotionally) of training to run for four hours without stopping.

Site: Run! a story project about running