Losing someone is a hard lesson

by You Have My Word


race run dark earlyJust after sun rays brushed gold dust across the smogged skyline, three girls set out for a run; exercise in the company of friends is that much easier. The cute corner coffee shop was supposed to be our start and end point, instead it became the barracks for those lost and panicked and tired.

Bend, stretch, hydrate, run. We left the safety of the parking lot. Starting at a reasonable pace – that means different things for different people – we were careful not to make it too serious too fast. Tekkie tread on tar, kicking up dust, stroking the arms of grass that passed its days by stretching out. Breathing deeply, our chit chat was scattered.

It stands to reason that when I run with someone else that if they stop, I stop; if they walk, I walk. It’s an extended version of “leave no soldier behind” and it’s important. Especially with girls. Three girls pounding through early light as if to beat the snowballing heat of day.

One of us was lagging so I slowed to bridge the space between the steady-steamrolling, front-runner and the persistent, wake-rider. It worked…for a while. I assumed the bridge was settled sturdy in its position not shaking with the rising tide of heart-rate and heavy breathing, but I was wrong.

Half way into the time dedicated to our sweating expedition I hear, “Hey, just wait” in a concerned, commiserating tone. (When I find a rhythm I push hard putting one foot in front of the next and sometimes need a call remind me of the need for respiratory respite.) I stopped and turned to see only one other runner behind me. “I’m sure she’s catching her breath, I’ll wait here till she catches up,” I think. Runner number two beckoned me to be patient while she checked a short way behind where we’d just come from.

The wait was longer than the distance covered. “Surely not.”  I turned and back-tracked confident that I’d find both friends jogging happily to meet me in the middle. I turned the corner and saw only one runner… coming back towards me shaking her head, eyes wide.

There are moments in time – split seconds even – when you become very aware of what each of your limbs is doing, all your senses are heightened and your head becomes a night-club for the impending doom that begins to dance through your imagination. Deep, heavy thuds meet cerebral cage bars, hands tingle, eyes dry out, words you didn’t know you could say pour out your mouth, and the air that previously gently surrounding you produces the same sensation you’d feel if you were in a small, dark and dusty room with a pillow over your face. Terror.

I start to run – double the pace I’d intended to. “I’m sure she’s fine. She was just behind us, she’s OK. We’ll find her.” Inhale, exhale at a rate quicker than a nervous student would tap their foot. We went back, and then we went back forward and then back again and then cut through the path we’d initially cut out. Up and down, back and forth – the grounds we were running were bigger than I’d anticipated. Out of breath but not wanting to be out of life, we continued to chase. Chase what? Chase who? Chase where?

Runner two resolved to go and fetch her car so we’d cover ground quicker and I ran on. Like a lion closing in on its prey, I was somewhere between sprinting and bending to clutch my stomach so I wouldn’t throw up. Desperation. “What a way to start a Tuesday. Who should we call? Has no one seen her? It couldn’t have between five minutes between the time I saw her last and the time we realised she wasn’t tailing us. How far could they have got with her? How much damage had been done?”

Each step was a flat-out attempt to beat the bludgeoning that was happening in my mind. My chest felt like somewhere had parked a tractor between each rib. My stomach like tumbled sea-weed and fishing gut being thrashed across abrasive coral on an ocean floor. “Knotted” doesn’t begin to describe.

I was running back to where I’d agreed to meet runner two if I found our friend. Twenty metres from the gate point I looked up and saw both of them standing there – runner two had just thrown her head back to laugh and it couldn’t have been me. My body ached after 72 life-threatening, body-deadening, reality-stretching minutes of bolting across greens and gravel. But she was there – standing in her long black pants and grey shirt, hair tied back sharing in the humour. I felt hollow, relieved, angry, grateful, tearful, ashamed, scared, at peace. “She’s OK.  She’s alive.”

She’d taken a wrong turn and then turned back when we couldn’t be seen. She did what seemed most logical because the corner coffee shop was supposed to be our start and end point. She’d been found by runner two on her part of the tumultuous traipse.

I realised the value of life this morning; I realised the close reality of death too. Both are right at our doorsteps all the time. Maybe the fear was irrational, but the fight to find her was no futile plight. And we are all OK, and we are all alive, and we will run again – together.

People are worth more than you can equate value to – treat them with dignity and respect. Tell people you love them and mean it – they can never know how much they mean to you unless you say so. Make time and space for those you call your friends and fight for them, have their back, don’t quit on them when they need you most. Losing someone is a hard lesson; love is shown in the looking.