Sunday, March 16, 2008

Loss and Rowing

"The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea."
-Isak Dinesen

Two weeks ago, I got a phone call in the middle of the night that felt like a punch in my solar plexus. A very dear friend who I'd spoken with only a day before had ended his life. As his brother told me the details of what had happened, I tried to make sense of it, as disbelief and an incredible sadness filled my heart. How could this charismatic and talented young man, who was so in love with life, have been in so much pain and felt so alone? And how could I not have known about these feelings?

I've never lost anyone I've loved before like this, without a chance to believe it was going to happen, without a chance to say goodbye. I didn't know all the things that come with it. The overpowering feelings: sadness, anger, grief, confusion, loneliness, love. That one day spent remembering that person and grieving can be more exhausting than a 50K training day. How one minute you are filled with happy memories of that person being very much alive, and the next, you are struck with the reality that you won't ever get to make more.

Coming back to training has been both challenging and easy. Part of my day is still spent trying to make sense of what happened, trying to come to terms with the fact that my friend is gone and I will never share a laugh or hug with him again, except in my heart and in my mind. The rowing part is somehow simpler now, though. I don't know if it heals or if it distracts, but I feel more focused and peaceful, and willing to be patient. At the same time, I feel stronger and faster than before, and I'm rowing better than I ever have in my life. A strange confluence of my feelings and my athleticism.

I saw "Into the Wild" yesterday, and some of the quotes Christopher McCandless's character references very much hit home.

"...the sea's only gifts are harsh blows and, occasionally, the chance to feel strong. Now, I don't know much about the sea, but I do know that that's the way it is here. And I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong, to measure yourself at least once, to find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions, facing blind, deaf stone alone, with nothing to help you but your own hands and your own head..."
—Primo Levi

"Death's a fierce meadowlark: but to die having made
Something more equal to the centuries
Than muscle and bone, is mostly to shed weakness..."
—Robinson Jeffers
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