Last spring my 17-year old daughter, Hanna Rose, and I ran in the Disney Princess 10K. So much was special about the trip – running in tutus and tiaras, fulfilling a dream of hers, having a mother-daughter senior year experience. We were also raising money for the Ronald McDonald House where we stayed when Ben died; the place where Hanna Rose had her 14th birthday the next day. To take something that represented the worst nightmare of our lives and turn it literally into a victory run is one of the most powerful experiences of my life.
But here is another side of the victory run story…and maybe the most profound moment for me of the entire weekend.
At every mile marker they would have a Disney character cheering you on, and tons of runners would stop to take pictures. I passed the mile 1 and 2 characters because I knew if I stopped I would have a hard time getting back into the groove. And then, at the 3 mile mark (half way through the race), the characters of JOY and SORROW from the movie Insight Out were right there.
This movie represents everything that I know is true about life. It’s all there – joy, sorrow, pain, delight, heartache, victory. It was the time in my grieving when I realized that I wasn’t going to have to resolve my sorrow in order to feel joy. It’s when I realized that the only way to survive the loss of a child was to allow my heart to expand so that both joy and sorrow could live there. Together. Not in conflict, not trying to one-up each other. Both are true, real, well-earned, complete. Both within me, then and now
So here I am, a real sweaty middle-aged mom mess, seeing the characters and thinking “Well, this is weird. They aren’t princesses (the other characters were Belle, Cinderella, Snow White, etc.). They’re not even that well known (and from a Pixar film – not an obvious Disney choice). At the 1 and 2 mile markers the line was really long to stop and get your picture taken with the character. But no line here. No one wanted to stop and spend time with Joy and Sorrow.
But I did. I slowed down. I let myself slowly wind down and come to the side of the track. I let myself get off the track. And then I allowed myself to go and hug these characters. My middle-aged sweaty mess of a self. And they embraced me. Let me take a picture with them. Me holding up a two-finger peace sign which was Ben’s favorite, crying with relief, surprise, confidence and heartache.
I cried my eyes out for the next mile (pretty sure the sideline medics were close to coming to take me out). I didn’t care about the snot, the blood-shot eyes, the gasps and gulps for air as I blubbered. I was already in a really hard race. I was already half-way through something that was grueling, exhilarating but hard. And now, I was going deeply and even more fully, purely into the mess of it.
I finished the race. I met up with my daughter, us both crying tears of relief, pride, surprise. I did it with a clear head, clear heart. Full of both joy and sorrow.
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