The first time I read Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s famous meditation on solitude, A Gift from the Sea, I longed to do what she did, take time out from her family, retreat, and then re-integrate, calmer, breathing more deeply. She talked about the cycle of release, the tenderness of parting, and then return, like a tide pulling away and then lapping back up to shore with strength.
A two-week stint of solitude at a beach wasn’t among my possibilities, as it apparently was for Anne. Still, for a mother, there is a little bit of retreat and return in every running experience. Pulling myself out of my family busy-ness is a challenge. Making the commitment to head out the door, taking what used to be 25 minutes and is now more often 45 or more, and making it my own—each time it takes a tiny emotional upheaval to disengage.
A few years ago, at beautiful Devil’s Lake in central Wisconsin, a natural miracle of rock faces encircling a clear, tranquil, and large lake, I took a long run, leaving my friend with all four of the kids we’d brought to the beach for the day. My run had the lake constantly to my left, sparkling and lovely, while I moved through a maze of forest. I navigated around rocks and trees on a narrow and bumpy little trail, keeping my eyes glued to the few feet in front of me. It was an adventure. I felt proud of my 40-plus-year old legs, agile and nimble enough for this strange course with its little footholds like teeny pockets for your feet. I marveled at the flexibility of my knees. By this time, I was taking nothing for granted, having been unable to run for more than a year not long before this because of injuries.
Running, I realized, is one of my favorite ways to explore a new place. When I was young, I was blessed with opportunities to travel to amazing places: France and other parts of Europe, Indonesia with my then fiancée, using his frequent flyer miles. These days, the adventure of solitude and nature, and the miracle of my own body fully functioning, these are enough.
While I was running, I barely noticed that a storm was gathering because I was so sheltered in the trees and in the little world of my mind and body. As it turned out, this would make for one of my more dramatic returns to the family fold. As my kids have gotten older, any time I return to the house, I get, if anything, an oh, you’re back kind of shrugging acknowledgement. No longer do I have little toddler arms to wrap around me and take joy in my run-of-the-mill arrivals home. But this time, my youngest, then eight years old, had been worrying. He’s one to do that. This was my child who had pondered for months the question of whether “it hurts the baby being born.” So when I came into sight along the edge of the big stretch of now nearly abandoned beach (the whole crowd had gone back to their cars to escape the storm), he bounded toward me and wrapped me in the tightest hug, and did not let go for awhile. It was not so much that I could “never go down to the end of the town without consulting me,” as the old poem about the boy greedy for his mother’s love goes. It was just that he was safe because I was safe. My return mattered this time, as much as the release of my departure had mattered.
Release, retreat and return aren’t usually this dramatic, but running almost always takes me away and brings me back happier and more ready to find those openings for closeness with the people I love. I give a lot to them when I’m with them. I recharge when I’m away, and usually come back ready to re-engage, even I’m greeted with a shrug and a glance up from a computer screen instead of a hug, I’ve rediscovered the thread of my life and it’s all okay.