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It is a cold winter day on 28 December in San Diego--47 degrees at 9 am. I am dressed in black shorts and a long sleeve orange shirt, determined to start training today for my 10 K. for Claire on 11 June. The waves of the Pacific Ocean crash behind me, and I feel a burst of optimism. I can raise money for this scholarship and do so by facilitating my own recovery from BED.
I feel I must set the right tone for this first run, and so I turn to classic hip hop: "I Go To Work" by Kool Moe Dee. I was not "with it" enough to have listened to this song back in 1989, when it first came out, but it is a perfect start: "I go to work, like a doctor," the rapper begins, and then kicks in with:
Open the door playtime is over
I am flying from Indianapolis to San Diego two days after Christmas. I will spend New Year's Day next to the Pacific Ocean. I distinctly remember having sent Maryclaire a New Year's greeting last year from Treasure Island in Florida. Maryclaire, always busy and trying to catch up, and this even before she was married and had four children, had responded to it on 2 November 2015. Her text to me that morning began "Hello Dear One" and ended "I'd really love to see you. Bless." I read that text message--a four paragraph precious gem--for the fiftieth time.
Maryclaire has now been gone for two weeks: How can this New Year's Day be so different from the last one? How can one year make such a difference in the lives of so many?
I text Maryclaire's husband Jay from the Chicago airport as I wait for my transfer to San Diego. There, I will begin to train seriously for the 10 K for Claire. But just because I am "escaping" from the mundane to a condo right next to the Pacific Ocean does not mean that I have shut down my grief or forgotten that Jay and his family still suffer.
I want Jay to know that I am thinking of him, which is exactly what I write: I am still thinking of you and wanted you to know you and your family are constantly in my thoughts. I AM going to run a race for Claire on 11 June in Portsmouth. My training officially starts tomorrow. I miss her so much and am filled with regret over time lost. Running to raise money for her scholarship will help me. As for you and the children, I wish you peace. I am a phone call away. Let's talk soon.
My text is wandering thoughts, but Jay's response is short and pointed. It gives me chills: June 11 is our anniversary.
The photo is undated, and yet it is clearly a precious memento of a bygone era when we--well, if truth be told--would hang out at bars all too much of the time. Claire is wearing my favorite green batik dress from those days--perhaps the late-1980s or early-1990s--and she has accessorized it with the necklace known as her "fairy bell." What is she staring at so intently? Cindy steals the show in her short blue dress. With arms extended, she invites the viewer to a seat at our table. Susan, who today does cross fit and advocates a sugar-free diet, is--ack!--smoking with the refined air of Audrey Hepburn circa 1961. And then, there is me: I insert myself into the group and so into the lives of these amusing and fascinating women. As I look at the photo, I wish Steve Jobs had invented the camera-ready iPhone twenty years before he actually did so that we could have captured more of these moments together. (I suspect Susan, Cindy and Claire--mothers of eight among them--are awfully glad he did not.)
Running this race is no easy task given that I have for six months been in treatment for Binge Eating Disorder (BED). According to the National Eating Disorders Association, this term signifies an illness "characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food (often very quickly and to the point of discomfort); a feeling of a loss of control during the binge; experiencing shame, distress or guilt afterwards." People with BED often gain weight, but, far from merely an aesthetic dilemma, this mental health disorder can be diagnosed as "life threatening."
As a result of BED--as well as co-occurring depression and anxiety--my weight has ballooned more than sixty pounds. Now at 5' 7" and 202 lbs., I find myself at the average weight of the ideal NFL running back. And yet, despite this choice of metaphor, I have not gone for more than a cursory run, an activity I had once loved, in many months. In recovery, I look forward to finding my "new normal," and regular running will be part of the active lifestyle I seek to embrace. In effect, I am going from "couch potato" to 10 K. in honor of my precious and longtime friend, who was always, in life, and now in death, such a support when I was going through hard times.
The charity of choice is to be a scholarship to Sparhawk School that will be established in Maryclaire's name. This innovative private school aspires to enroll as many students as possible from diverse economic backgrounds. This scholarship will ensure that one more deserving young person has access to Sparhawk's progressive program. In it, the student will learn more than basics about math or history; he or she will also be actively and deliberately encouraged to become an independent-minded and confident individual. As succinctly affirmed in its mission statement: "Ours is a program, then, that honors children, values inquiry, encourages exploration, allows for innovation, and celebrates ideas. Children in our school gain skills that allow them to be self-initiating, self-directing learners, as well as joyful, responsible, and independent beings."
Maryclaire had been involved in Sparhawk School since its foundation in 1993. It was her first job after graduating from Lesley College with her Master's degree. At that time, we both lived in the Boston area, and so I know how excited she was to teach at a school where she could implement the innovative and effective curriculum for which Sparhawk School would become known. Teaching young children was so much more than a job for Maryclaire; it was her vocation. And she sought always to reveal the magic and the beauty of the world to her students.
I am proud to have called--to still call--Maryclaire friend and am proud to help secure donations for a scholarship in her name.