This weekend, I experienced one of those once in a lifetime, luxuriously refreshing string of events that you might equate with an unlikely romantic fantasy or an unspoken, secret dream: in a beautiful oceanfront hotel, where I watched the sunrise over the sea, talked all hours into the night and early morning, enjoyed laughter from the depths of the soul, invigorating intellectual conversation, and plastic cups filled with cheap wine, I fell in love...
It wasn't a weekend getaway with a long lost lover (though that might have been nice, too). This weekend, during the Eastern Shore Writing Project's Winter Writing Retreat, I fell in love again with writing, with living, and with people. It was a love affair of different sorts.
I engaged in a whirlwind romance of the mind as my colleagues and I examined the power of words, allowing ourselves to express heartfelt sentiments about writing, teaching, and communicating. I wrote, I reflected, I read my words aloud. I laughed. I felt deeply my own pain and joy, and that of those around me, as we captured the little miracles of life and typed them into existence on our laptops, jotted them into permanence in patterend journals and tattered spiral notebooks. We came together in a way that is truly rare. I realized, once again, that writing is a bridge across cultures, years, gender, experience. I smiled and cried as I was touched by the words of those around me, and I was humbled as I watched my words fall meaningfully onto the ears of others.
I was swept off my feet spiritually, as well. In a place when I was more inspired than I have ever been by the common bonds uniting us, so many vastly different people, I reflected on what God has done for me, the incredible gift of salvation that I believe is found in Jesus Christ. I ran across the boardwalk at sunrise, watching the incredible display of glowing pink rays lighting up a still soft, star speckled sky, the cold ocean consistently lapping the shore below. I thought of how big my God was, yet how accessible He is, to all who seek him. I prayed for my new friends, and thanked God for the amazing blessings He has given me.
Of course, it's all very noble to claim that I had planned this spirtual rejuvenation in conjunction with my adamant need to exercise. Truth is, I had to force myself to run. Self, I began, you've gained at least five pounds if not more over the holidays. You embarassed yourself terribly at your last 5K. If you don't run at least once this weekend, I'm going to kick your own butt later.
So I exercised my resolve and woke up at 5:30 in the morning, as to not interfere with the precious writing time or the socialization to which I had quickly become addicted, having come together with some of the most interesting and fantastic people I had ever known. As I'm too cheap to pay for a gym membership, and too much of a pansy to be hardcore with my running in the icy month of January, I decided a run in the hotel's treadmill would be a special treat.
Down I went to the gym on the second floor, and yes, it's quite possible that I forgot my sweats and had to run in my pajama pants (don't worry. They're gray, and except for the penguins and surfboards across my derriere, I don't think anyone would have noticed anything suspicious about my attire). Luckily, I was the only lunatic in the gym at what I would have thought was an ungodly morning hour.
*Sidenote--I just had to google "butt synonym" to figure out how to spell derriere. True confessions of the randomness of my life.
So anyway, I attacked the treadmill, and it attacked me back. I've only resorted to indoor running a handful of times in my life, and when I checked my mileage after twenty-five minutes, a timeframe when during my normal efforts outside I would have been at close to three miles, I had managed to run just over two. Sweaty, hot, and disgusted by the stuffiness of my gym and my poor performance, I jumped off the treadmill and wandered out to the balcony to breathe in some fresh air.
To my delight, it wasn't a frigid, furious winter morning, as I assumed it would have been. The cold that greeted me was exactly what I needed to refocus my mind. I jogged down the stairs, having found the inspiration to finish what I'd started. I ran the final mile down the deserted Ocean City boardwalk, awed by the spectacular display of nature in the sunrise, convinced that God had chosen this moment to talk to me.
It was a beautiful experience.
The people I spent the weekend with: dear older friends and instant newer ones, too, were truly some of the most fascinating I've ever met. Many of us are teachers. Some of us are students. All of us are writers. Stacie, the single mom of four I invited from my church, one of my favorite friends I made last year, discovered that she is, in fact, a writer. My friend Greg, a college student and full-time construction worker, held his own and kept us in hysterics as he carried his weight as one third of our entire male population (the only time you'll be in the minority as a white male, we joked). His creative documentary on seagulls is both hilarious and a bit scary. Once he posts it online, I'll provide a link. Laura, who has easily done enough living in her short time on this planet to have lived fifteen people's lifetimes, told of her adventures in twenty-one countries, and her Deep Conversations with Random Strangers, a brilliant book idea that stems from her energy and fearlessness in meeting and connecting with new people. I heard sentences from her mouth that I would never anticipate hearing again, things like "So I was in Chicago, and it was after I'd won third place in the Amateur Ventriliquest Competition..." We practiced the art of Deep Conversations with Random Strangers, marching into The Atlantic Hotel in Berlin, demanding to know if this was in fact the hotel Richard Gere stayed in during the filming of Runaway Bride. The gracious owner, who was sidetracked by her duty to check in actual paying guests, handed us the key to Room #20, and up the stairs we went. Cynthia touched the bed Mr. Gere slept in; we all admired the toilet he peed in.
We finished the weekend out with Jody Kelly Wright, a local author and partner of a West Ocean City restaurant. She spoke beautifully, encouraging us all, inviting us to celebrate whatever successes it is that we have achieved, and to constantly challenge ourselves to take it to the next level, whatever that may be. Jody is living my dream. She has had one book published by a small press, and is now an agented author pursuing traditional publication for another of her novels. I think given her energy, dedication, and obvious talent, she is a definite name to watch. As I sat in that room with other aspiring authors, I thought back to that grueling run on the treadmill, and how the moment I stepped outside, I was free to really run. It suddenly became easier, because instead of running in place, I was actually going somewhere. I think so many of us run, run, run through our lives going nowhere, just as I was struggling and huffing away on that treadmill. Only in breaking loose and running in the fresh air, which we are so often afraid to do, because of the cold, because of the inconvenience, because of the unknown, because of the challenge, only when we venture outside, do we find we are finally able to run somewhere. I don't even know that where you go is the important thing... I just know it matters that you are moving in a direction of your choice, as opposed to staying still despite your best efforts.
As I thought about God and all his majesty, the gifts he gives us that we take for granted or get distracted from (the most sacred of which is the gift of His own son), I vowed to not run in place any longer. I vowed to pursue my dreams and those God has for me, and to not settle for running in place, to exhaust myself in a struggle to make it through without actually going anywhere. I want to live life to the fullest. As I returned to Salisbury for church in the evening, my pastor's words summed up my realizations of the weekend:
"It is never too late to be the person you were always meant to become."
Why wait another day? We are given so very few, and they are truly precious. I'm getting off the treadmill now.
Why settle for an affair when you could be married?
Here's to living each day to the fullest.