Friday, December 16, 2016

Repair

They say you should never go back to the thing that broke you. But what if what broke you is something that also makes you whole? What if it’s something that’s actually good for you—and one of the few things that makes you free, alive, and unlimited? Does its benefit outweigh the fear of failure in going back to it? And what if I told you that, instead of being broken, it was through your own carelessness that you had broken yourself? What then? Do you learn from that and try again? Or do you limit yourself with excuses about why you were destined to fail in the first place, and then spend a lifetime of longing for something that makes you happy to be yourself?

Not a single one of these thoughts went through my head a few weeks ago as I laced up my skates at Ingalls rink. Instead, I wondered if my skates were sharp enough for the ice because I hadn’t skated since January—January 30th, to be exact. That was the day I fell and dislocated my elbow coming off the Olympic oval in Lake Placid. I was simply moving too fast as I exited the rink onto a snowy path. Call it skater error. Call it a foreshadowing of 2016. Either way, I went up, up, up—and then down, with my left elbow bearing the full force of impact.

As physically painful as that experience was, what most upset me was that it prohibited me from skating for a long time. Skating brings me unparalleled joy, and I missed the ice in the weeks and months that followed my injury. I couldn’t even do yoga during that time, since the torn ligaments and tendons of my left arm couldn’t support any weight. I was, however, cleared to run. So, two weeks after my fall, I resumed a long-abandoned running routine and embraced a newfound freedom and lightness in it. I’m grateful for that. It may not have happened had I not injured myself. In fact, I run so much now that my body craves it if I miss more than a couple of days of my usual neighborhood route. I now run an average of about four and a half miles each time I head out, and I’m slowly—oh, so slowly!—working toward running a 10K, followed at some point by a half marathon.

Still, I missed skating. And after 10 months, several physical therapy appointments, and a hefty dose of humility, I was ready to get back out there. Nevermind that it was the Yale Youth Hockey family skate night and that I would be lapped by hotshot hockey players. I wanted to skate. I needed to skate.  And the only person who could make that happen was me.

I’d be lying if I said wasn’t scared, though. I simply did not want to get hurt again. I had hoped to borrow one of my son’s elbow pads, but it reeked so badly of Hockey Smell that I passed on it. Instead, I placed faith in myself. Rather than trust everyone else around me to be safe, I trusted my own skills and balance. Hardly foolproof, of course. And I still need to get an elbow pad for myself. But at the time it was my only option. I wanted to get back on the horse and ride it. My injury was the kind of thing that would prevent many 40-somethings from ever going on the ice again. I wanted more than that. I enjoy skating too much. Someday, God willing, I’m going to be an old lady. And that old lady is still going to be teaching, writing, and doing yoga. She will still go to college hockey games on the weekends, still run 5ks, and still enjoy the occasional open skate at Ingalls. But I had to take the first step.

The ice was packed with middle school boys racing each other and showing off spray stops. Even some older, yet boyish coaches dominated the rink with their competitive antics.  A few younger children looked like Fred Flintstone out there, legs rapidly moving while stuck in one spot. Parents hunched, skating backward while holding the hands of toddlers who complained of the cold. In the midst of this, with my husband having disappeared into the crowd far ahead of me, I stepped onto the ice. After several unsure and cautious steps, I found my stride. I was home.

I spent 45 minutes on the ice before taking off my skates. Wiping away snow from the blades with my pink terrycloth skateguards, I was proud of myself for having followed my heart back out there. It was more than worth it, and I can’t wait to skate again. Now the only thing standing between me and some sweet ice time is all this work and hockey mom business.

Maybe my fall on the ice at the start of the year wasn’t all that bad. In fact, I’m looking back at 2016 and thinking (crazy at it seems) that maybe it wasn’t the worst year ever. Lots of great things happened this year. My older son was accepted to an amazing high school, where he is happy and doing well; my younger son is excelling and happy in every corner of his life. I landed a new and fantastic job with great colleagues and amazing students. What’s bad about any of that? 

The concept of a bad year versus a good year is just a function of our human desire to categorize everything. And while so many people—including me--have valid reasons to believe this year sucked (four personal losses, Bowie, Trump, Aleppo, to name a few) there is so much good to be savored. There is great beauty in the small moments. In pink moons heavy over horizons at sunrise. In birds lightly steadying themselves on branches. In the warm arms of sleepy children and the sprawling wit of gangly teenagers. In the crisp smell of tomato plants and the earthy promise of salty beach sand. There is truth and timelessness in love and forgiveness and in the steady gaze of someone who truly wants to be present with us. There is a whole world in need of us to live from the heart and trust others with it if we are ever to heal from anything. But first, we need to trust ourselves with this privilege and stop fearing our own vulnerability. We need to stop listening to the voices so eager to tell us all the limits of who we are and instead embrace the spirit of who we want to become. 

Lace 'em up! 














Thursday, November 10, 2016

Until We Make It

Until We Make It

The opossum’s body curled 
like a tired fist while our 
great horse of a puppy
hovered, 
barking, 
whining,
confused paws splayed in
vain hope of play with the
sad sack of fur.

We called him inside with
whistles and treats, then
watched from the window
still, silent
just like our new friend,
heads bent together.

My husband’s voice cut
through the darkness.

“You won’t see anything.
He won’t move for a while.”

We turned and shushed
him, glancing at each other
and rolling hazel eyes like
synchronized swimmers,
my youngest son and I. We
turned back toward the yard.
“You’ll see,” I whispered,
more to myself than to
any man in the house.

Ten yards away our old,
black dog kept watch over
her land, over this opossum.
Resting in a pile of leaves,
she looked away from us
and gazed toward the trees,
blinking into the chirps of
crickets, as if to give the poor
creature the privacy it needed
to come back to life.

Suddenly, earlier than promised, 
a twitch. The opossum’s tail 
sprang forward like a Chinese 
yo-yo.We gasped and smiled, 
noses pressed against the old 
window screen, inhaling rusty 
aluminum and the bewitching 
warmth of an October night.

“It’s okay, little guy,” my son
whispered to the creature. 
“You’re safe now.”

Slowly, the opossum began to
soften from the grip of its fear.
Its legs stretched as if to greet
a new day. Its little face
turned and raised as though
waking, dazed, from a long nap.

“He’s so little,” said my son.
“He’s so young,” I replied.

Staggering to its feet beside the
azaleas, the little critter gently 
shook its head, peered into 
the darkness and paused.
Then, unfazed, it toddled toward
the fence and into the night. 
Close by, our old girl sighed 
and settled her grey muzzle 
between muddy paws.  





Saturday, October 8, 2016

From the Top

The fire’s not catching. The wood is good, but on humid nights when fall refuses to yield to its crisp promise, there is only a weak draw from the chimney. And so, the fire is simply not. It just won’t without more effort than it’s worth. It is a pile of smoldering, seasoned logs that beg me to wait until some other time. A colder night. A drier night. Any time but now. And so, for now, I’ve given up on it.

And therefore I find myself in the living room listening not to the crackle of logs, but to the scratchy tick-tick of logs that have given up and that have been given up on. And crickets. So many crickets singing a slow round of fall’s inevitable triumph.

Autumn is a tough transition for me, a die-hard summer girl. September might actually be my least favorite month, despite its spectacular blue skies and bright air. The month begins with my total denial of summer’s end, and it concludes with a quiet, resigned acceptance of pumpkins and foliage. October is a bit better. For one, I’ve already said goodbye to summer on last month’s calendar page. Secondly, it brings with it the familiarity of newer school routines, post-season baseball, and the dawn of another hockey season. It’s the month I finally jump headfirst into fall, whereas September leaves me clinging to idyll and hope. October is for kettle corn and cider donuts. September is a swan song, with the last lobster rolls, the last summer ales, the last bathing suit beach days of the year.

There are constants, though. In my small city of New Haven, some things transcend seasons. In fact, they make the changing seasons more bearable. The heavy roast of Willoughby’s Coffee is just one example. The beach at Lighthouse Park, another example, is one of my favorite places to go during the coldest, snowiest depths of winter. And the summit of East Rock is like a beacon no matter what time of day or year it may be.

I find great comfort in the fact that my new classroom faces the monument, the Angel of Peace, atop East Rock. Pulling into my parking space at the base of the rock each day, I have watched the summit disappear into the mists of muggy September mornings, and I have watched it emerge from the same fog in the heat of early fall sunshine. In the past week, I have savored the slow shift of the summit’s leaves from lush to faded to fire. East Rock is more of a ridge than mountain, its jagged, striking fa├žade a metaphor for all the city that claims it. From the parking lot, my classroom, and the teacher workroom on the third floor of my building, I gaze upon the summit at all times of the day. I see the tiny figures of bodies that have walked—or driven—to the top of East Rock, and who gaze upon the city. Upon me. Upon all of us.

What do they see? Do they see the city as a whole, its diverse geography of rolling hills, rivers, and the Sound? Do they see a jigsaw of neighborhoods—like the ‘Ville, the Hill, and the 8? Do they see the grey rooftops of buildings, a patchwork of industry, academia, wealth, and poverty that exist in the 06511 zip code alone? Or do they look instead for where the town lines blur into the sprawl of surrounding suburbs, the towns where people who like New Haven—but who may not necessarily love New Haven—call home?

There is a lot to see from the top of East Rock—if you want to look for it. Some people might only look for the city’s landmarks and notable spires. Others may look for their homes or the old neighborhoods of their families. But do they really see our city? Do they see New Haven—and New Haveners? I like to think that from the vantage point of the summit we are all equal. I like to think that somehow, beneath the gaze of the Angel of Peace, the transient Yale grad student and the sixth-generation townie are the same; that a gang-banging wayward teen is no different, no less worthy, than the Ivy-bound child of a visiting Professor. I like to believe that a tight-knit multi-generational Italian family sharing a two-family house in Morris Cove is no more worthy of respect than a newly-settled refugee family served by IRIS.

I know my own roots beneath the gaze of the monument and what they mean to me through my own lens. I know that, while they are part of my story, they are not my story. I know that I identify with all of them and none of them at the same time. My great-great grandfather was Postmaster General of the city in the late 19th century. My great grandfather was a beloved pediatrician in town during WWII. Another great-grandfather, William Connelly, was a rough-and-tumble Fair Haven Irish fireman in the 1930s (as were all of his brothers) who dropped dead in his kitchen after working a big fire. One of my grandfathers ran an Esso station on Broadway. Another never fully realized the magnitude of his intelligence, privilege, and education in the long shadow of Yale. And the women? Journalists. Teachers. Social activists. Some were all of the above. All of them were New Haven, each one of them stronger than the next.

The view from atop East Rock is constant throughout the seasons, and the only constant about the seasons is change. Whether I am looking at the monument from my classroom or upon New Haven from the summit, I am certain of several things: I love my city, I love its promise, I love the people who live here, I am proud of my family’s history here, I love living here, and I love working here.

And I love it all that much more in summer.




But I guess fall is nice, too. 



Friday, September 9, 2016

Commit

What is commitment? Is it a promise to successfully complete something? Is it a contract to see something through all the way to the end no matter what? Is it a pledge to be unwavering, unfaltering, unfailing in the pursuit of some goal or reward? Is it clear and obvious when that goal has been met, or the thing has been seen through or completed? Is it worth enduring no matter what?

I’ve been thinking about the concept of commitment a lot lately as I’ve transitioned to a new teaching job at a different high school in town. Although the move is the right one and a good fit for me on pretty much every level, I had concerns that I would be seen by some as a district job-hopper. That worried me, because that kind of opportunistic, career stone-skipping is so far from my intention. The truth is that in the last several years I’ve learned a lot about what kind of teacher I am, what kind of teacher I hope to be, and what kind of environment best supports those things in order for me to do my best work for my students. It is, after all, support that helps us truly thrive as educators.

So here I am. I have new school colors, new colleagues, new students, and new school hashtags. But does that mean I’m not committed to this work? Does it mean, as I swap out purple and yellow swag for the peppermint red and white school spirit of my new building, that I am somehow less credible and reliable because I didn’t stay somewhere simply for the sake of staying?

It’s not that anyone has suggested as much. But I have asked myself these questions, because I’ve hit some personal milestones this past year. For starters, my second marriage has officially outlasted my first (there’s something bittersweet about that). Also, August marked eight years that I have lived in my current home. That is the longest I have ever lived anywhere since I lived with my grandmother as a child. After that it was hop, hop, hop, with six years being the longest I had spent anywhere else. Finally, my years as a teacher are nipping at the heels of the time I spent as a business reporter and freelance writer in my post-college and pre-divorce years. I dare say I’ve almost settled down. But still.

All that change. All that movement.

All that growth.

I admire people who stick to things without faltering. Some people are really good at it. They drive the same car for 15 years, live in the same house for 25 years, keep the same job for 30 years, and get a nice, gold Cross pen for their efforts when they’re done. They might even keep the same spouse for 50 or more years. I find these things admirable because I know that not everyone can see things through to the end like that. Especially me. I lease a new car every few years, because I’d rather pay on the front end than on the back end for maintenance and repair. Besides, I like new cars. I also like new phones. I have switched careers and houses a lot. I've been married twice. 
.
Does that make me someone of less integrity, less commitment?

I guess that depends on how you look at it. Just because someone sees something through to the end doesn’t mean they’re committed to it. It might just mean they feel trapped, or they fear change, or they don’t want to deal with the hassle of that change. Longevity and endurance do not equal commitment or quality of effort. Sometimes they are congruent, but they are not the same. 

I’m committed to quality. I’m committed to effort. I’m committed to excellence, not perfection. I’m committed to growth, not stagnation. I’m committed to living my own truth. I’m committed to nudging myself out of my comfort zone, because outside of it is where the magic happens. I’m committed to (usually) learning from my mistakes, and I’m committed to being the best version of me that I can be—whatever that means for today, because that definition will and should change. I’m committed to love and to the process of growing in that love. I’m committed to friendship, kindness, and forgiveness--and to the process of discovery and evolution in all areas of my life and in the lives of others. I’m committed to my work. I’m committed to my children in every possible way, and I’m committed to the idea that things can and should change, and that we should walk beside one another through the beautiful mess of it all.

Time waits for no one. Embrace change. Love life. Commit yourself to it in all of its forms, grab it by the reins, and ride that sucker. For some, that means committing to a place or person or cause for their entire lives. For me, it means committing to my truth. Sometimes it’s a flash in the pan. Sometimes it endures. Sometimes I wish it would endure, but it’s out of my control.

As I pulled up to the stop sign at the end of my street on my way to work today, I paused and rolled down my driver’s side window. My oldest son, now a high school freshman, stood at the stop sign waiting for his painfully early morning bus to take him across town. He popped out an ear bud. 

“Hey,” he said, sleep still cracking his voice. 

“Hey,” I said to my little boy, who just yesterday was a curly-headed toddler who held my hand everywhere we went. “Have a good day, sweetie,” I said. “I love you.”

He nodded, putting the earbud back into his ear. “Love you too, Mom.” 

I drove away. His lanky frame in the reflection of the rear-view mirror was just fine without me.

I arrived at school 15 minutes later, and a former student of mine (who transferred to my new school two years ago) greeted me in the hallway with open arms. “You did it!" he cheered with a huge grin. "You switched it up, Miss!” 

Once my kids, always my kids, wherever I may find them, and whoever they may be. That is my commitment.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Lucky Break

“Are you hurt, or are you injured?”


A family friend who is also a fireman asked one of my sons this question after my son had whacked his nose at a birthday party a few years ago. Kneeling down in front of my boy, my friend inspected the bloody nose and said, “If you’re hurt, I can help you. If you’re injured, I can still help you, but we’ve got to get you to the doctor. Let’s see which it is.”


Fortunately, my son was only hurt. One ice pack and 10 minutes later, he was back in the fray of pizza, cupcakes, and bowling. But my friend’s words stuck with me. So when the skate guard glided up to me in Lake Placid last January and asked if I needed to see an EMT, I had to think about it.


“Hold on,” I said, sitting in the snow. “”Give me a sec.”


Sometimes it’s hard to tell if we are hurt or if we are injured. We can be dismissive of serious problems or too concerned with benign issues. When it comes to the body, we can be deceived. Moreso, too, when it comes to the heart.


In this case, it was my arm, not my heart, that took the blow. It was such a stupid fall. There I was, sailing around the Olympic oval on my skates under a starry winter sky. The ice was the smoothest I’d ever experienced, and I happily joined in skating with my younger son, his hockey teammates, and several parents as we enjoyed our last night of a hockey tournament in Lake Placid.


At the center of the oval there was a bonfire. A narrow, snowy path led from the rink to the fire, and I spontaneously decided to hop off the ice and walk down the path toward some toasty flames. In doing so, I underestimated how fast I had been going, and therefore I overestimated my stopping ability on the snow. There was nothing to grab in order to steady to myself, and there was no rubber mat to keep my skates from slipping. There was just ice and a hard, packed, snowy path. I slid off the ice, took one step onto the snow, lost my balance, tried to steady myself with another step, and then seemed to slip up into the air before landing--entirely on my left elbow.


It hurt, but it was also kind of numb. I sat in the snow, trying to steady my shaken nerves and assess the situation, when the skate guard showed up.


“Are you okay?” he asked.


“I fell on my elbow,” I said. I tried to move my arm. Something was wrong, though. My forearm wasn’t moving. It was just kind of hanging there.


The sweet, pimply-faced kid said, “We have EMTs. You should probably get that looked at. Can you move it?”


I instinctively held my arm close to my body. Although I was wearing layers of clothing and a puffy down jacket, I could tell something was definitely not right. My mind immediately flashed to visions of sitting in an ER in Lake Placid, effectively ruining the last night of an otherwise amazing tournament weekend.


Hurts can inconvenience us; injuries can change the game completely.  


I tried to move my arm and felt pain around the bicep while having no control of anything below the elbow. “Shit,” I said out loud, realizing that my elbow might have actually dislocated. Then, to the guard, “Sorry.” I straightened my arm as best as I could and then pulled hard on my elbow. Something popped. Eureka! I could move my arm again! “There!” I said before being overtaken by pain and nausea. “Oh,” I gasped. “It’s better, but it’s worse.”


I conceded defeat. “Maybe I should see the EMT,” I said.


“I think that’s a good idea,” the skate guard said, reaching out his hand and helping me onto the ice and into the arms of my husband, who could only shake his head at my awesomeness as he guided me toward the EMT. He rolls his eyes. A lot.


At me.


The EMT determined that my arm didn’t seem broken, but it was severely bruised. She gave me a bag full of Lake Placid snow to ice it. “Sorry,” she said. ‘It’s all we have here.” Then she told me to take some ibuprofen and get checked out when I got home. I followed her orders, and 36 hours later I was at the doctor with a black and blue arm that was frozen at a 90 degree angle and an elbow that had swelled to the size of a tennis ball. Two doctors and several x-rays later, the results were in: I was injured.


I had not only dislocated my elbow--and somehow managed to relocate it by myself--but I had chipped it in the process. Worse, though, was that the tendons and ligaments of my left arm were in rough shape after being rocked by the dislocation. Prognosis: I would heal, but the healing process required time, rest, physical therapy, and absolutely no weight bearing activity whatsoever until the orthopedist said otherwise. “You’re lucky,” said the orthopedist. “Injuries as severe as yours to the ligaments and tendons often require surgery. I’m hopeful we can avoid that, but we will see.” She added that my 18 years of yoga practice had likely kept my bones nice and strong, which is why I hadn’t suffered a compound fracture.


I didn’t feel all that lucky. I was actually annoyed. I couldn’t believe I had been stupid enough to get hurt--wait, injured--like that. I should have known better than try to skate off the ice too fast. Now I was stuck in a cuff and collar, perhaps one of the ugliest slings ever made, and I couldn’t hook or unhook my bra every day without excruciating pain. But of course, I never asked for help. I’m too stubborn. My body was injured, and my pride was hurt. And I damn sure didn’t want surgery.


I wasn’t feeling particularly good in my own skin, and the injury had left me feeling vulnerable and weak. Most arm-oriented yoga poses were ruled out for several weeks, which was a serious bummer for this downdog girl. It was winter, dark, and cold, and I couldn’t even ice skate. Faced with limited options, I made a decision: I was going to get back into my running routine. My orthopedist gave it the green light after two weeks in the sling, and I was off. I began new, more mindful eating habits, too. By April, I had dropped several pounds, gained a ton of strength, and felt better than I had in months. Even better, my arm had mostly healed, thanks to my persistence with at-home physical therapy and the guidance of my PT at Yale.  


I kept running, reminding myself to keep my body loose and my breath steady, and on a very hot day in June this 43-year-old ran her first-ever five-miler in under 56 minutes. My goal is to do a 10k next spring, and a half by next fall. But, as with everything, we will see how it plays out. I’m not married to that schedule of progression. As long as I keep running and challenging myself, I think I’ll be in a good, healthy place, regardless of when I make it to that half.


My injury may have healed, but I can still feel its ghost. When I move my arm a certain way or slightly overextend it, my bicep winces. My elbow no longer feels wonky and wobbly, but the arm is still recovering. It’s not as strong as my right arm, although one day it will be. And I will skate again this winter, but with some hockey padding on my left elbow from now on.


That’s how it goes with injuries, I guess. Healing is a long process, and sometimes we have to adapt and modify our ways if we want the payoff to last. If we don’t learn how to heal and how to stay healed, we will open ourselves up to injury again and again. But sometimes, if we are really good to ourselves, we can turn our injuries into new beginnings.


Tomorrow I will teach my regular Wednesday night beach yoga class, one of my two summer jobs that I have come to love. I will guide my students into downdog and show them how to care for themselves and their joints in the pose in order to avoid injury--especially on the sand, which can seem deceptively safe. As usual, I will also remind them of the importance of caring for small hurts and pains on and off the mat, in the body, and in the heart. It is just as important to care for the little hurts lest they turn into injuries. Healing takes work, and not everyone is up to that task.



Saturday, July 16, 2016

Disconnect

I keep my cellphone far away from me at night these days. For the past several months I have elected to drop technology completely from my bedroom in an attempt to create a more relaxing and restful environment. I use a Moonbeam alarm clock to wake up instead of my cellphone alarm, and I do not miss my phone one bit. Not when I’m reading. Not when I’m falling asleep. And especially not in those precious early morning moments when I’m waking up to greet a new day. Instead of reaching for my phone to check emails and social media updates, I stretch, say a few prayers of gratitude, read some meditations, rock a few yoga poses, and start off my day right.

So it was strange this week to have the cellphone back on the nightstand. My oldest son was away at camp, which means that I needed my phone by my bedside—not because he was homesick. He definitely wasn’t. But because, you know, I’m his mother. That’s what mothers do.

It was the best and worst possible time for me to have my phone at an arm’s length first thing in the morning. The current racial climate in our country has had me engaged in some Facebook discussions in which I restated my support for the Black Lives Movement, which resulted in disappointing yet unsurprising backlash from some people. It was a reminder of why I try to avoid Facebook on a general basis, and it was a good reason to get away from it again.

I’ve gone long stretches with a break from Facebook, having deleted the app from my phone. For the first five months of this year I only checked my account once or twice a week on my computer, with my posts being mostly Instagram photos that I shared to the site without ever logging in. Only since roughly the end of the school year have I become again more entrenched in Facebookland—through the browser on my phone, because I refuse to reinstall the app--mostly because I’ve got a little more free time. I also have a lot to say about the status quo of American society, and I’m brave enough—and stupid enough—to share my thoughts about it in that space.

So Wednesday morning I woke up, did my standard morning routine, and then fired up the phone. As expected, there were no texts from my boy—he was too busy being 14 and away from home. But there were some distressing comments to a recent Facebook post of mine, a post that was centered more on looking at a situation from a black man’s point of view than it was of anything else. After rolling my eyes and feeling a knot well up in my chest, I sleepily typed out what I hoped was a coherent response. Then I posted that Facebook needed to fix its face because its ugly is showing. “Peace out,” I said. And I meant it.

I was barely awake, but the “peace out” was genuine. I just knew that if I want to keep my own peace of mind, which I need if I want to be able to think clearly about the big issues of our time and the work that must be done to fix them, then I can’t have my brain muddled by the cacophony of thinly-veiled racism on social media. I need a break from the ugliness. For the record, there’s a lot more that makes Facebook ugly than just the current conversations on race, gun control, and our upcoming presidential election. I need a big break from all of it.

I decided to go for a run. I’ve gotten back into my running groove, and it feels fantastic. Summer heat mandates that my delicate constitution run earlier in the day, however, since late day temperatures make it tough to muddle through three or four turtle miles. So at 6:30, I wrestled myself into a sports bra, popped in my earbuds, and took off for pre-breakfast 5k.

Anyone who runs knows the first mile is a liar, especially early in the morning when you’re still rubbing sleep from your eyes. With “The Cool Out” from the Clash helping me lumber toward the one-mile mark, I began to look forward to the second hill of my route, since I was finally picking up some speed and momentum. I rounded the corner to take the hill, setting my sights at the top of it.

And there was a deer.

This beautiful young deer was just standing on the sidewalk about 20 feet in front of me. It was so unexpected and peaceful, I gasped. It stared at me, and I stared back. I was afraid to move. Morning traffic was increasing on the main road at the top of the hill, and I didn’t want to scare the poor thing right into it. I raised my phone to take a photo of the gorgeous creature, but then I stopped. I decided I wanted to just experience that moment rather than document it. I wanted that moment to be between only me and the deer. I’m tired of sharing so much of my life with the Internet.

The deer gracefully strutted across the Upson Terrace, becoming more skittish as it neared the main road. It crossed back toward my side but then stood in the road for a moment as I signaled to an oncoming car to slow down. The old man driving the equally old station wagon yelled out his window to me, “What’s he doing around here? He looks lost.” Then he coughed a smoky laugh and drove on.

I slowly trailed the deer to the intersection, where my obnoxious, blaze-orange running shorts helped get a few drivers to slow down and even stop as the deer decided to bolt across the main thoroughfare. So there we were, me on the even side of Townsend Avenue and the deer on the odd side. I felt like if I could just make sure that he made it to the big chunk of open land at the Townsend estate just a couple of blocks away, then I could relax. I didn’t trust most of the speeding drivers on Townsend to stop in time if the deer bolted again. Getting him to that wide open space would be an assurance that he was safe for at least a little while.

The deer sniffed around the corner property to which he had crossed, and then he gingerly poked around the grass of the neighboring lawn. I began to run again, much slower than usual, keeping an eye on him. As I ran, he began to pick up speed, so I sped up. He kept going faster, and so did I. I can’t explain why I felt it was so important to keep up with this deer, but it did. He gracefully leapt over a hedgerow. I laughed. He glanced my way and kept going, with me mirroring him far less gracefully across the road. For a block we ran together. His scamper was my all-out-haul.

He slowed at a side-street corner and seemed to actually look both ways before he crossed and made his way toward the tall grass of the Townsend estate. I stopped for a moment as he lingered by a driveway at the edge of the property. “Go, go,” I whispered, as if he could hear me. “Go, be safe.” And just like that, he scampered behind a high row of boxwood and was gone.

I turned back to the sidewalk before me. I smiled. What had just happened? Everything, and nothing. I picked up my pace again.

A block later I passed an older gentleman who teaches at another high school in New Haven. I was beaming, “I just saw a deer!” I exclaimed with the giddiness of a little kid.

“Beautiful,” he said as he passed me. “But watch out for the black bears. I saw one on Kneeland on my run a few days ago.”

I turned my head over my shoulder to reply, “They’re more afraid of us than we should be of them.”

“Maybe, but you never know,” he called back. I didn’t turn around.

My strides were lighter and freer, and I wanted to run forever—toward a place where deer, and bears, and even people can share space without fear. Instead, I ran home and shared my story with my husband and younger son. And I was proud of myself for having no pictures to prove any of it.