This book resonated with me on so many levels. I hope that everyone I know, particularly those who think of migrants / immigrants as individuals to fear, reads it. With an open mind and an open heart.
This week marks the beginning of the twenty-third year I’ve lived in a country other than my home country. And, I would not change a thing. Perhaps that is why I read it both with a sense of hope and a longing for my own home.
I am and always will be a citizen and product of the United States, and I remain steadfast in my hope for her future as a country and for her people, whether they’ve lived there for millennia or recently arrived. But, I also understand that as much, as I love her as a nation, both her troubled and horrific as well as impossibly hopeful history, that we as a people have much to learn from others and that we must look at ourselves not as exceptional but as one of many people who share this big beautiful blue planet.
I can only speak of my experiences as an American living abroad. I view the wealth of our nation in skewed terms these days given my own personal lens. Whilst migrants exist everywhere, those seeking a life in the US occupy a central position within this book.
Our richness as a nation does not come from simple monetary wealth, but in the richness of the various people who arrive on her shores in search of something better and brighter for themselves and their children. To me, the diversity of our people offers glimpses into the richness of us as a species. Our ways of life. Our traditions. Our glorious, luscious, delicious foods. And, this melding of ideas and ideologies as well as cuisines offers us bits and pieces we may both carry onward and leave aside or savour so completely and fully.
Yes, I am an American. But, I am also one of millions of migrants in this world. My circumstances are my own, but the reality of being a migrant — both setting up and creating a new home whilst missing that which I left — is a reality I share with every other migrant in this world. All we ever hope to find is a place of peace and acceptance, and an opportunity to flourish and survive. Not as outcasts or others, but as valued and valuable members of the communities we now choose to call home.
Normally, I’m quite content to spend time on my own or in the company of my little multispecies, multinational family, going days on end bonding with my freakishly fun kitten and The Cuban, foregoing the company of others, parties, large crowds and a busy disco card. As an only child, I learned early in life to find ways to entertain myself. In this home, there is no end to the entertainment on offer given my flatmates.
Despite my constant companions and sources of fun, support and love, I genuinely miss lunches with friends and colleagues. I miss being out and about in the world beyond our lovely neighbourhood. I miss interacting in person with people other than at the supermarket and postal office. I miss the three-dimensional world. I miss a lot of things I took for granted, much as I suspect we all do. It’s no comfort really that I am not alone in missing these things. Beyond a few lunches with friends safely distanced outside our flat and bumping into a friend or two in the neighbourhood, we’ve spent the last 17 months on our own. And, it’s seriously fucked with my mental health.
After the pandemic forced us all to spend more time on our own and largely exist within our own homes and following a rather heart-breaking early beginning to 2020 for other reasons entirely, I confess: my own ability to find hope and joy waned. So, I did what I do when depression and anxiety hit: I laced up and resumed running. Remaining rather inconsistent until March and April of last year, I improved, I logging more miles and steadily progressing more than I had in… years. July of 2020 found me getting out and moving each and every day, either walking or running, an accomplishment which seemed impossible just a few months previously. Following a foot injury in August, in October to cope with pre-election nervousness and stress, I attempted a running streak — a period of time whereby runners log at least 1 mile or 1.6 km on each and every run each day. That streak lasted until election day on 3 November — 33 days — when I freakishly stubbed my big toe and broke it whilst cleaning my desk of all things, leaving me pretty much unable to walk much less run, despite trying to lace up that day. [I made it down the stairs in our building before giving up and heading back up the stairs feeling rather defeated if not thoroughly silly.] Through that first streak, I logged about 112 km. And, you know, I was proud of myself. Gutted that the streak ended, but I gained so much confidence in the process and along the way.
It wasn’t until 1 January that I resumed running. And, again, I began a running streak. That streak was short-lived (15 days), however, since I incurred yet another injury. Too much, too fast, and another valuable lesson was learned: listen to your damn body, V.
For the remainder of the winter and early spring, once my foot (and pride) healed sufficiently, I resumed running, albeit more modestly this time around. With the deep freeze of February, my runs were short yet thrilling. My plan was simple: no training programmes or plans (like couch to 5k or 10k), opting instead to simply listen to and adjust the length and pace of my runs individually based upon what my body told me it could take each day. One run at a time. I started with 1-mile runs, supplemented with walk–run intervals, typically lasting no more than or just a bit more than 30 minutes. The runs lengthened incrementally, although some days all I managed was a measly mile. But, week on week, the distances grew and my confidence did as well. At some point, I decided that my goal was to comfortably run 5.1 km by my birthday when I turned 51. And, you know what? On 22 May – the day after my birthday – I did it! (I would have accomplished this on my birthday, but the weather that day was absolutely dreadful. So, the next day it was.)
And, this, my friends, is where it gets interesting. From 22 May until this past Sunday, 1 August, I did not miss a single day of working out – either logging a run, a walk or an Ashtanga yoga practice. Not. One. Day.
But, something else happened within this period: from 30 May through 31 July, I ran at least 1 mile or 1.6 km every single day. During that time, I also walked and/or practiced yoga each day as well.
Y’all, I am proud.
My running streak lasted for 63 days, meagre amongst streakers, but massive for me. And, really, the only person I’m competing with is myself.
The only reason my streak ended is because the second Covid-19 vaccine messed with my body a bit, leaving me feeling incredibly poorly on Sunday and Monday after the jab on Saturday. So, rather than risk injury and making myself feel even more miserable, I took two days off.
So, what did I learn?
First, the first mile always lies. It’s rather like depression, curiously – don’t trust anything that first mile says.
Second, ignore the voices of doubt. Running a full 5k is now something I know definitively I can do. It may not be a quick 5k. That little inner voice of doubt once silenced means nothing when it comes to getting to 5k.
Third, pace means nothing, although adjusting it can mean the difference between struggling and finishing strong. I no longer focus on checking my Garmin often to see how fast (or slow) I’m going. The less I look, typically the more surprised I am by how steady my pace is and how fast that last km becomes. I run by feel: starting as slow as humanly possible and focusing on my posture and foot falls, as well as my breath. Slow and steady and further beats fast and short, unless I am short on time, when I will push myself just to see how fast I can go.
Fourth, did I mention telling that inner voice telling me that I can’t to shut up?
Fifth, consistency. I knew each day that I would go for a run, even if it was short. Adjusting my plans or schedules or to-do list necessitating putting a run in there somewhere. I knew each day I would practice yoga after my run once I figured out that it was a nice way to get some stretching in. I missed maybe one day a week, but that was intentional. I knew that each day or at least most I’d go for a walk with my husband in the evening. And, whatever else I planned or needed to do, at least 30 minutes of my day was set aside to run.
Sixth, try not to have too many expectations for a run. The days when I expected my runs to rock were typically my worst. The days when I expected my runs to suck were typically when they were awesome. Weird. But, now I know.
And, finally, take support from wherever you can find it. There was one day recently in that last week when I was certain my streak was already over. Rain and thunderstorms plagued our neighbourhood all day and it wasn’t until about 9 in the evening that a window opened up. The rain wasn’t the issue; lightning was. My darling husband, knowing how much this streak meant to me and providing the support I needed, watched the weather and declared, ‘You’ve got a window! Go! Go for your run now!’ Quick change into my kit, I laced up and ran. And, it was sweet and glorious. (Thank you, Tweetie!) I’ve also received some incredible support from fellow runners and streakers, both individuals I know beyond running and individuals I’ve connected with virtually via various running groups and applications. We all need cheerleaders and I’m grateful to and for mine.
Here are a few statistics (‘STATISTICS!’, as my super supportive says) from this run streak:
Run streak days (RSDs): Kilometres (miles) run: Total distance (walking + running): Number of individual workouts: [Runs] [Walks] [Ashtanga yoga practices] Hours spent running:
The journey of a 1000 miles (or a run streak) begins with a single step (or, in this case, a single run). Thus, I’ve already begun my next run streak. Today, once I complete my run I will be on RSD2.
My first goal is to reach RSD64, to pick up where I left off. My second goal is to reach RSD100 for the triple digits. And, then, who knows? I’m also aiming to finish the year logging 2021 km total distance on foot (I’m at 1402 km as of today) and finish the year with more kilometres logged running than walking, although I’m allowing myself an out on this goal. Injuries, yo.
Running may not allow me to resume lunches with friends or bring this bloody pandemic to an end any sooner. I may offer me the peace of mind I crave knowing that my loved ones, whilst impossibly far away, are safe and out of harm’s way. But, running does afford me some sense of accomplishment and does give me a bit of a respite from obsessing over the news every few minutes and far more frightening statistics. Running certainly keeps me from doom scrolling. Running lifts my spirits, because it really is a form of therapy for me even during relatively carefree days (remember those?). And, that ain’t nothing.
So, rather than focus on the Covid-19 statistics, I’m focusing on my own stats. At least a little bit. And, it helps.