Words by Sandy Lentz
My mom was a runner. I don’t know when or why she decided to run, but once she began it became a very important part of her day. Up at dawn, she put on a tattered baseball cap, equally worn t-shirt and shorts, and Nike Air shoes. She carried a stick and a pocket full of dog treats. A dirt path around a quiet, desert golf course was her domain as the sun began to rise. She didn’t have an easy life. There was little peace in her life apart from running. This was the one thing she did for herself. An introvert, she rarely socialized outside of family. Life had ups and downs and she had concerns about various family matters, finances, and other things. But for an hour each morning, these were put aside as she allowed herself to feel the emotional freedom that comes from the movement and breathing that accompany running.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to join my mom in many of her daily runs, and to witness her peace as we logged our miles. Shortly after we started, out came the dog biscuits in small handfuls. She began to place them on short wooden poles making up a fence along the path. As if on cue, several black ravens made their approach from the sky. They voiced their excitement with “caw-caws” as they flew from pole to pole, snatching up their tasty treats and essentially following us around the course. “You greedy birds!” she would say as they fought over their prizes. “There’s plenty for you all!” she laughed.
A barking dog or two from behind fences received the same treats tossed to them as she moved along. She knew their names, although I don’t know how. “You be quiet now, Rigman!” she’d say as she passed.
We’d often see other walkers, and she would tell me their stories. One woman had recently lost her husband, another had a back injury and was recovering. She never failed to acknowledge them and ask briefly how they were doing.
“Good morning, Rose,” she would greet the neighborhood grumpy elderly woman. On one particular day, Rose dismissed us with a shake of her fist in response to mom’s greeting. Thereafter, we chuckled when she approached, “Here comes Thorn Bush!”
Sometimes we talked about all sorts of things. Other times we were both silent, content to be together but lost in our own thoughts. Both were OK, and we just seemed to sense which scenario would be preferred that day.
We encouraged each other as we approached a dreaded hill, calling it the suicide hill. “Here we go again. That blasted hill!” we’d almost shout!
The drinking fountain, with its cool refreshment at the top, was our motivation and reward as it provided a quick stop to slow our ragged breathing and stinging lungs.
We trained for various competitions: Race for Life, LA Marathons, March of Dimes, and others. We’d plot out increasing miles on the calendar leading up to the races, and then exclaim, “Whose idea was this?!” and “We are crazy!” as we doubled and tripled our trips around the course. But the smiles and contentment we felt after race days were precious, and we’d barely wipe away the sweat on our bodies before beginning to plot out the next event.
These were good times, rare fun times for her. The trials and difficulties of life faded into the background as she paced along a path. When we finished each morning, we said our goodbyes and verified our meeting time for the next day. It was off to the tasks of the day and our minds began to regroup and focus again on the reality of life and its needs. It’s as if the peace was broken when the bright sun shone over the sky and the sounds and sights of cars and people began to fill the streets.
And then life changed overnight. Cancer happened. Not once, but three times over many years. At first mom rallied, fought, and regained her strength and life. She rarely complained as she endured months of painful chemo and radiation. Her running slowed as her pain increased and her ankles swelled. She resorted to walking, the miles fewer and fewer, until one day she stopped just as she had begun. It must have been very difficult to let go, and I’m sure a piece of her heart died with her words, “I can’t do it anymore.” Her morning peace was shattered without any substitute except for more pain and decline.
On the day mom passed from this life to her eternal one, she had become just a shell of the strong, healthy woman she had been. Tubes were removed, oxygen turned off. She was washed and cared for by a loving hospice nurse and then covered completely by a sheet. Family members watched as funeral home workers dressed in black suits arrived in a white, curtained station wagon to pick her up. They wheeled mom out, it seemed in slow motion, to the car and backed out of the driveway.
It was then, at the moment the car was shifted into drive and moved forward on the narrow street, that a lone runner appeared from seemingly nowhere. A young woman, pony tail moving from side to side, tanned and wearing shorts, with an unmistakable look of peace on her face. She appeared to adjust her pace to remain just behind the moving vehicle carrying my mom, a picture of respect from one woman to another. Tearfully, I watched them move farther and farther down the street and somehow knew this was a sign of heaven to me: Mom is at peace once again.
About the Author:
Sandy is the wife of a fantastic husband, mother of two grown awesome daughters, and grandma to the cutest kid on earth! A nurse for many years, she is now enjoying being semi-retired in the midwest. She is challenging herself to spend time writing from her heart and experiences.