Someone once said, "If you just set people in motion, they'll heal themselves." I, for one, am sold. Four years ago my mom left my dad. How did I, a blindsided and heartbroken 25-year-old, respond? I ran. In the six-month period following a tear-soaked family meeting during which my mom made her surprise pronouncement-"I've chosen to end our marriage"-I made serious tracks.
My three-mile loops through the park near our home in Seattle served as therapy. The gust of feel-good brain chemicals and accompanying clearheadedness brought on by running allowed me to transcend the sadness of my parents' breakup, if only for half an hour or so.
But I wasn't always alone. My dad and I had long been running companions, providing each other with moral support as we trained for this race or that. On Sundays we would meet at a popular trail, stuff our pockets with banana Gu, and ease into a comfortable out-and-back.
Shortly after D-Day our conversations took a turn toward the personal. "Hey, guess what I found while I was going through some old boxes last night?" I asked, my arms swinging loosely at my sides. "Those rainbow wind chimes from that Port Angeles street fair. How old was I then, like, 6?"
"Sounds about right," he answered, laughing and falling into step beside me.
"I remember that Mom had dressed me in a pastel striped jumpsuit," I said. "Kevin was probably throwing a tantrum, you had more hair..." Then the tears began to flow: How would I ever be able to think about my parents as anything other than a unit, a team?
He let me cry, every time. As we strode in sync, exchanging the fondest of memories (camping trips in British Columbia, heated badminton matches in the old backyard), we were celebrating, affirming the decades-long strength of our little family. Change-big change-was afoot, but a few divorce papers could hardly rob us of our shared history.
We couldn't have connected this way over coffee. Sentiments that came easily midstride ("I'm sorry you're hurting") stuck in my throat as we sat face-to-face at a java joint, a pub, or in the front seat of my dad's Dodge. They sounded awkward and cheesy coming out of my mouth.
Except for my zip code (I left Seattle for New York City last year), not much has changed since then. Although Dad and I talk regularly on the phone, I've noticed we "save up" sensitive conversations-most recently one about the ups and downs of dating-for the occasions when I'm home for a visit. Once we're reunited on the trail, limbs loosen, hearts open, and inhibitions are left in our dust.
If solo runs allow me to disengage from stress, running with Pops ensures I'm operating on all cylinders, bringing voice to a healthy range of emotions: grief, love, concern. After my parents' divorce, I was able to confront my sadness head-on and eventually come to grips with my mom's decision. The talk therapy format of father daughter jaunts was, and continues to be, a prime strategy for navigating difficult terrain-minus the therapy co-pays.