And, just like that…

I run because it helps me battle my worst inner demons. I run because running is one of the only things that allows me to empty my head of all the nonsense that accumulates each day. I run because I can.

Yesterday was tough for a multitude of reasons. Today remains anxiety-riddled, largely because Irma has adopted Cuban time and appears stalled in between Cuba and Florida. She’s ravaged Cuba, although perhaps sparing Havana her worst. But, we still await word on those we love in Cuba, and continue to hope that they are well. Florida is another matter entirely. And, all we can do is continue to wait. Wait and hope we shall.

But, yesterday was also a victory for me. A seemingly small one. But, a victory all the same.

I can’t say that my Helsinki Midnight Run went at all smoothly. But, I finished, and I am proud.

Here’s what I’m taking away from the experience:

Two weeks ago, mentally I hit a gigantic, immovable brick wall. For reasons that don’t really matter and which I’m still processing, I sank into a state of despair and antipathy that I’ve evaded for a while. My little black dog barked and growled loudly and stripped me of my running and all other mojo. Thus, my last run prior to yesterday was two weeks ago today.

In addition, the last week or so, I’ve also been trying to ward off a bit of a chest cold or bug. Thus, earlier this week, when I looked at my schedule (which is mental) and the weather forecast for the run (which predicted rain, rain and more rain), I was certain I would not line up. Rather unfortunate given that I’d spent the last several months working hard towards that 10 k / Midnight Run goal.

But, sometime on Friday, I decided, ‘Fuck it. I’m running it. I may not have a great time and I may walk bits. But, who cares?! I signed up. I’ll at least start it!’

So, I started. One of the best moments came just before I started. As The Cuban and my close friend Jules escorted me to the runners’ starting area and relieved me of my jacket and bag of post-race crap, they believed in me even when I was uncertain. The Cuban, perhaps sensing more than anyone just how anxious and filled with doubt I was simply said just before the final pre-race smooch, ‘I’m so proud of you’. [Yes, I’m all choked up now reading that.]

My Race

After the finish and after the post-race swag grab, I snapped this before meeting up with The Cuban and my friend Jules. Yeah, I’m proud.

My Midnight Run

Images from a Helsinki Midnight Run: the start, the masquerade runners, my start group banner, the post-race hydration mission — G&T, and water of all sorts — and back home once the hat finally came off.

It struck me as odd since I hadn’t started yet or run a single step in two weeks. But, at the same time, that short little declaration said everything, and reflects why I’m proud of me.

I signed up. I laced up. I lined up. And, I started. More so, I finished. And, yes, I’m proud of me for that.

The race itself was hard and lovely at once. I went slow. But, slow beats standing still. I had breathing issues about 4 km in and had to find a port-a-potty, but I kept going. The skies opened and the rains came somewhere between the third and fourth kilometres and didn’t really stop, although it did let up to a gentle mist at some point.

I walked bits, but I kept going. I high-fived as many bystanders as possible because they helped me to keep going, and I’m grateful that they braved the elements simply to cheer us crazy, mad near-midnight runners on. And, I smiled. Even when it hurt, I smiled. Because I could continue to put one foot in front of the other, and just keep going. Before I knew it, I was passing the 9 km marker and then the 500 m to go banner.

And, just like that, I finished. Truth be told, it hurt I finished strong. More importantly, I finished!

As much as the worst critic (that little black dog barking in my head) wants to find fault in what didn’t go right last night, the runner in me is screaming, ‘Shut up, fool! You got out there and you did it! Who cares that it didn’t go smoothly?! Not every run goes well.’ And of the three Midnight Runs I’ve completed, this was my best.

For that, I’m proud.

My running story isn’t over — it’s just getting started.

Advertisements

I will not be terrorised

The world at the moment seems awfully scary and intimidating and violent. That violence appears utterly random at moments and widespread, even amongst those of us who live in relatively safe zones (e.g., not in places like Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria, for a start).

After last week in Charlottesville, after Thursday in Barcelona and after yesterday evening’s knifing closer to me in Turku, the only thought I have is, ‘I will not be terrorised’.

Am I afraid?

For humanity, yes, indeed, I am. But, I refuse to cower in fear that something ‘might’ happen. That the boogeyman de jour will leap out from behind some imagined barrier wielding a weapon of choice. I refuse to look at another individual, different from me, and think, ‘Aha! That is the boogeyman we’ve been warned about’, and continue to eye her/him suspiciously.

Years ago, I had a business trip to Israel, where I spent a lot of time at Hebrew University and travelling to and fro on various buses for meetings with colleagues and to attend special events. It was an incredible trip really, and introduced me to a part of the world that is unimaginably beautiful in its stark, barren, brutal reality. In many ways, I fell in love with the country.

But, whenever our group was together, armed security guards accompanied us, in itself rather shocking to me. By armed, I mean, bulletproof vests and semi-automatic weapons as well as Glock-9s at their sides. Never mind their ammo belts. Several trips required traversing routes twice as long as the direct route, simply to ‘avoid’ certain areas perceived as particularly ripe for attacks from Palestinians.

Because this trip coincided with an uptick in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the early 2000s, my boss at the time, an Israeli from Jerusalem, mentioned that there was chatter and concern that ‘something’ might happen. And, several times during that two-week trip, every single mobile phone my fellow passengers carried on various buses rang seemingly simultaneously. I learned quickly that when that happened, there had been some tragedy elsewhere. In fact, three suicide bombs exploded during that trip, two of which rather near to and soon after we’d be in various spots. [Several weeks after that trip, a bomb exploded in the cafeteria at Hebrew University, a place I’d had more than one lunch at during that trip.]

Was it scary? Yes. But, more so, it was sad. It was profoundly and deeply troubling to see the affect it had on those who live that reality every single day. Suspicion and fear weighed heavily, and the divisions between Israelis and Palestinians seemed to become more prominent. Talking with various vendors along the edge of the Arab market in the Old Town in Jerusalem or colleagues and friends from various parts of Israel, everyone wanted the same thing: peace. To live in a world free from the random acts of violence that plague us all. To allow children to be children, and to know a world in which they needn’t fear or cower depending upon their own identities. To live in a world free from those learned identities.

That trip was difficult, but it was also one of the most amazing trips of my life.

What gave me hope then and continues to guide me on the darkest of days now is the knowledge that not everyone is a maniac hell-bent on destruction. Not everyone is so consumed with hate that they seethe with rage at the mere mention or glimpse of their imaged enemy. Not everyone sees diversity as a scourge that should be forever eliminated.

Not everyone is a terrorist. Not every Arab or Muslim. Not every black man. Not every left-wing liberal or so-called antifa. Not every conservative or Republican. And, not every white boy with a Southern drawl.

Yes, at the moment, I am scared. More so because we seem to be less-inclined to learn from or engage with on another and prefer to categorise those who are different as ‘the other’ and, therefore, evil or our enemy.

But, rather than be terrorised, I’m going to continue to live my life as if that fear did not exist at all. I will not assume that every act of violence is a terrorist attack.

Months ago, after yet another horrid incident, I hoped that we could figure this shit out. I’m still hoping and believing that we can. We. All of us. But, if we are to do so, we must stop being terrorised.
scaredsalman

Stolen moments

This ‘summer’ in Helsinki has not exactly gone to plan. It hasn’t been bad; just not entirely what I expected.

But, moments—collections of seemingly insignificant moments—have made this summer much more memorable and heaps lovelier, best intentions and expectations aside.

Whilst work has kept me crazy busy and completely disinclined towards boredom or sitting on the balcony to enjoy a bit of afternoon reading in the sunshine, Helsinki’s weather hasn’t brought the sunshine and warmth our balcony garden needs to flourish let alone temps comfortable enough to sit without multiple layers for any amount of time. My free time has also coincided with days utterly devoid of sunshine. Sod’s Law, naturally. Rather than chillaxin on the balcony admiring giant sunflowers in July and August, we only seem to find a few moments at a time to spend tending to our balcony garden / wildflower ‘patch’ or to fill up the bird feeders. We do finally have tiny little wildflowers just now opening up, which thankfully go largely ignored by our community of feathered friends.

It’s lovely enough out there even if we have not spent any amount of time truly enjoying it. Those tiny little flowers are gorgeous. They’re also a nice reminder to be patient and accepting—there simply isn’t a whole lot we can do if we don’t have just the right balance between across and elements.

It is what is, this Helsinki summer. So, we’re finding the bits that are lovely and focusing on those. I’ll focus on these lovely little bursts of purple for as long as they stick around.

From seed to flower

From seed to flower, from our balcony garden and ‘wildflower patch’

As I add miles to my weekly run tallies, it’s also been incredibly important to find time to bond and unwind with The Cuban. So, nearly every evening that we can, we go for a walk, no matter how short on time we are or how stressed we may be and, lately, regardless of weather conditions.

This last week, we’ve spent a bit of time on our jaunts sitting on a lovely little bench just at the water’s edge, enjoying the view and completely letting go of all that ails us.

A few days ago, we were treated to an incredible sunset and absolutely tranquil conditions.

sunset in munkkiniemi

An evening sunset in Munkkiniemi. 

Stolen moments these are. And, as my schedule intensifies for the autumn term and life gets busier and more chaotic, I’ll not only remember these precious moments, but also try to steal and enjoy a few more.

 

Right place, right time

Timing matters.

But, so does taking opportunities as they arise.

Yesterday when my husband and I were out for an evening stroll, we chanced upon three geese. Spying these geese wasn’t particularly unusual—loads of them live along the shore near our flat in Helsinki. But, as we approached the water’s edge, they took flight from their positions in that majestic and magical way that mimics the illusion of walking on water. I’d just taken my phone out to capture a pic and snapped one before they flew out of the frame.

One moment. One photo. One opportunity. This is what I captured.

geese_Fotor

I’ve come to look for those moments when I’m in the right place at just the right time. And, to take whatever opportunities may be on offer. In some ways, much of my life over the past 20 years has resulted from those chance opportunities and meetings. Taking advantage of such timing at any one moment to simply go for it and see what happens wasn’t always a simple choice.

Whilst some things haven’t gone quite so smoothly, some of those choices worked out amazingly well. And, it’s those which stand out now.

My husband, for instance. I cannot imagine a life without him had either one of us not decided to set fear and uncertainty aside and just see what happens once we realised we were falling in love. It’s not a happy ending quite yet (thankfully), but it’s worked out well enough thus far.

To add to this item at the top of my list, landing my current job and what appears to be a career I’d never envisioned came about when I had no real direction or plan. My move to Moscow in 1999 resulted from a chance dinner at a conference, and lead me to so many places and further opportunities (including my husband and current job) I’d never imagined. And, so many moments and choices in between.

The importance now is that each of these moments became opportunities only because of my choices in those moments. Being mentally in a place where I felt ready to face what came next, willing to take a gamble in some cases and able to take on new challenges and shifting sands were sometimes more important. Without knowing it, in each of those moments I was ready to bet on me.

I don’t necessarily lament opportunities lost or which passed me by. In truth, I’ve no idea how many of those have faded into the distance on days when my mental demons shouted down and drowned out the voice of reason.

What I do know is that I am incredibly grateful for those moments when not only someone else took a chance on me, but when I accepted those challenges and bet on me.

 

In the blink of an eye

10 years_2

Arriving in Helsinki from Sheremyetyevo, 21 July 2007

Ten years.

Ten years ago today, we took our three suitcases and Che Fufu carrier (with Che Fufu less-than-pleased to be in it) and made our way to Sheremyetyevo with one-way tickets to a country next door and yet worlds away. Several security checkpoints and an hour-long flight later, we arrived in Helsinki’s very clean and quiet airport.

Ten years. It simultaneously feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago.

There’s still so much of this city and country that remains utterly foreign to us (Finnish language, perhaps?). And, yet, we’ve built a life here. I remember that first summer missing a bus whilst standing at the stop because we didn’t signal as it approached. I remember being in awe at how huge and well-stocked the supermarkets were and how cheap things like clothes were. I remember the novelty and delight of an online journey planner which would tell us how long it would take to walk to the bus stop and what time the bus would arrive at that stop. And, even better, how long to the minute the journey would take. Furthermore, it was typically correct!

After Moscow, this was utterly unbelievable. Much of our new life was. It all seems so normal now, but was completely surreal ten years ago.

Helsinki has been good to us, and it isn’t at all a bad place to live. It’s clean, it’s well-organised and safe. It’s quiet—so quiet that when we first arrived the quiet proved unsettling.

Since we’ve arrived, we’ve celebrated milestones (getting married counts, right?) and birthdays, endured unimaginable uncertainty (residence permit saga anyone?) and come through it all to enjoy a bit of calmness and serenity. The world beyond may be crumbling or chaotic, but our little life here is relatively peaceful and stress-free these days.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine living in Finland. But, here we are. I never imagined marrying a Cuban until I met mine. I’ve no idea how long this glorious-in-summer / abysmal-in-winter land will be home to us, but here’s to ten years and counting. It’s passed in the blink of an eye.

I love running

I love running. I do. I’m slow, and I have yet to go very far. But, I love running. And, I suspect it loves me. It’s at least good for me.

Last summer after years of stifling the little black dog that barks and growls and nips at my heels and mind from time to time, I made a series of slight adjustments in my behaviour and routines. I’d sunk so low that breathing hurt. Changes were necessary and long overdue.

One of those changes involved recommitting to running regularly. Whilst various forms of exercise obviously carry benefits to one’s mental and physical health, running has always helped me empty my head, meditate on whatever shit floats around up there. Somewhere during those runs, I let go of the garbage that wears me down, both real and imagined. As August turned into September, and September gave way to October and November, regardless of how busy I was or how much I felt unmotivated to lace up and hit the trails, I did. And, it helped. The fog that had clouded my everyday existence slowly dissipated and lifted entirely, and I felt infinitely better as the weeks and months passed.

Running wasn’t so much simply physically beneficial; it was a mental health necessity.

After injuring myself in January whilst running the Malecón in Havana, I was forced to take four painful months off. My ankle healed by late March / early April, but then the flu season hit and, then, I fell and hurt my knees, running to catch a bus of all things. Fast forward to May — four months after my initial injury — and I’m finally getting back into my routine. A few days shy of four weeks back into my running rituals and again the fog is lifting.

This. This is why I run. And, this is why I love running.

I don’t really care how fast I get through a particular route — each run feels like a battle won and conquered at this point. I don’t have any long-term ambitions other than to continue running three or four times a week for as long as my legs will hold up, and hopefully taking part in the Helsinki Midnight Run come September. I won’t win races, but I will stay in the ultimate race — that crazy race called life. Undoubtedly, depression and my little black dog will come barking again from time to time. Whatever I can do to tame him quickly and without too damage to myself or those who love me most, I’ll do. And, I firmly believe that as long as I continue to add miles to my running logs, those visits from the canine beast that haunts me will become fewer and further apart.

I read a story several years ago about an incredibly young 92-year-old woman finishing a marathon. Harriette Thompson, that same woman, just surpassed another milestone by becoming the oldest woman at 94 to complete a half marathon. I won’t break any records, other than those I set for myself. But, I will keep running. For me.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The greenness of spring

It seems like we wait all year for spring to arrive in Helsinki. This year in particular — a mere two weeks ago we endured days of snow flurries and living in a giant snow globe when our feet should have been enjoying the freedom of sandals. But, whenever that shift from winter to new growth arrives, there’s an unnatural greenness to the landscape which never ceases to surprise, delight and amaze me. Each and every year.

I don’t know if it is simply the newness to the green leaves or the sudden explosion of them everywhere. Leaves seem to grow overnight, transforming from tiny buds to giant leaves so, so quickly. But, this green. This green against the darker trunks of some of the indigenous trees becomes fluorescent. Add in the budding green shoots of the grass, the insanely loud cacophony of the birds screaming for their mates and the lengthening days and shadows of those long summer evenings, and you can’t help but smile and feel alive.

Winter—the long, dark, greyness of winter—often seems never-ending and at times unbearable. So when spring comes, perhaps my mind simply doesn’t recognise the loveliness that is this new growth, leaving me confused and processing that colour as something almost other worldly.

Whatever it is about spring and this green we experience in the far North, I welcome it. It is truly glorious and I’ll soak it in for as long as it lasts. After my class this morning, I was standing at a bus stop marvelling at the dark blue, stormy sky of summer as the backdrop to those bright green leaves of new growth. Those are the moments we carry with us as we suffer through the darkness. Simultaneously, those are the images we forget on the darkest days as a way of perhaps protecting ourselves from the darkness. And, those are the images we delight in each spring.

It takes a specific mindset to survive in this environment and not lose all hope of the sun returning to it’s brilliant glory. And, looking at trees in winter, it’s hard to imagine them ever living again. Perhaps this is what makes summer so incredibly glorious and wonderful.

Whatever makes the leaves this green, I’ll take it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.