Because I Get To

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Check out the bling! 

This is the end result of the races I did this weekend.

Conditions were great for the 10k on Saturday. The course was quick, interesting, and I felt strong.

Sunday, well, Sunday was a slightly different story.

The humidity was almost 100%, temps were in the 70s at the start and this was the first time I’d done back-to-back races.

By Mile 2, I was dripping sweat.

By Mile 4 – about a third of the way done – I started bargaining with myself.

My hip was tight. I was wearing the wrong clothes. I had new shoes that were untested. I had run too fast yesterday. I started too fast today. I hadn’t trained enough in the last month.

Conversation in my head: Just go to one more water stop and then you can run and walk. Now this is something I’ve never done, but I was giving it serious consideration.

And then something else happened.

All I could think is this: I run because I get to.

I saw this phrase recently and it really resonated with me. Suddenly it also seemed to follow me everywhere.

At the Running Expo two days prior, I bought this shirt:

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(It’s from Fellow Flowers, and if you aren’t feeling particularly authentic, perhaps you are filled with strength, gratitude, courage, hope, or just feeling worthy. Check them out).

I thought about my Dad, who inspired my love of running and would have loved to be there.

I run because I get to.

And then I ran past a group of spectators who were more than happy to give me high fives. My energy surged.

I run because I get to.

And then – get your tissues – I ran past a group of children in wheelchairs, cheering on the runners.

I run because I get to.

Suddenly, 13.1 miles didn’t seem so far.

I run because I get to.

My time was far, far from a personal best: 2:07:31.

I was #1207 out of 19,294 finishers.

But I did it, and it was awesome.

I run because I get to.

UU Santa and His Rainbow Bag

Organized religion and I have a relationship that is tenuous at best.

I would describe my childhood church experience and hit-or-miss, depending on how motivated my parents were to get to our generic Lutheran church on Sunday mornings.

Later on I went to Catholic high school, where I was one of a handful of token outsiders. On a day to day basis, this translated to little more than an extra study hall when everyone else was at Mass.

They didn’t give me a pass when it came to the uniform, though. Navy blue skirts and thin white blouses still give me PTSD.

Forget college. I was too busy recovering from Saturdays to make Sundays worthwhile.

I kept telling myself that I’d figure the religion thing out next year.

And then “next year” became about 20 years.

Being in medicine – and especially my field, OBGYN – can really bring big issues like life and death to the forefront. And that doesn’t even touch the tricky ethical dilemmas we’re faced with.

All of this has left me seeing everything as some shade of gray rather than black or white.

It’s been a snail-like movement back toward anything I would identify as religion (including a personal experience that I may write about sometime, but not now), but one of the recent prompts has been MGM and Trixie asking me if I know the answers to the Questions of the Universe.

Where’d they get that? And no, I absolutely do not know the answers. Any answers, really.

About two years ago, I took this quiz – in jest, mostly – to figure out if any religion was a fit for me.

I’d done my homework, so I wasn’t surprised to find out that I was 100% Unitarian Universalist.

(I took this quiz again right now as I typed this, and the results were exactly the same. I could also be 94% Liberal Quaker or 90% Secular Humanist).

I won’t do Unitarian Universalism (UU) sufficient justice to summarize it here, but long story short, it’s an uber liberal religion characterized by a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” Equality, human rights, respect for the environment and social justice all play big roles. 

My take on being UU is that it’s all about the journey. No one really knows what happens when we die, and we have to be responsible stewards of the world and its inhabitants Right Now.

I dipped my toe in the water and started going to the local UU about a year ago. I liked some of the things I heard about – especially the social justice aspects – but I was still gun shy.

This year, I enrolled MGM and Trixie in their religious education classes, and we’ve tried to prioritize churchgoing as a family on a regular basis. (Another great thing about UUs: They traditionally take the summer off from church! And exactly NO ONE gets uptight if you’re not there week after week).

Last Sunday, they had a Holiday Service that featured stories from multiple traditions, including Hanukkah (Even though I can’t sing a note, I loved the Hanukkah song we sang, “Light One Candle”), Kwanzaa, Christmas and Chalica – a totally made-up UU celebration that encompasses a week of doing good deeds.

And then there is the thing that I love the best about UUs: They have a sense of humor about themselves.

The last song of the day was “What UU Santa Would Bring in His Rainbow Bag,” sung to the tune of “The 12 Days of Christmas.”

Except UU Santa brings things like the Democratic process, compassion of the Buddha, the right of our conscience and a world full of equality.

It may sound leftist, weird and self-righteous, but it totally wasn’t. The congregation took it all in stride, with laughs punctuating the familiar melody.

And it was in that moment that I finally felt it: These are my people. Liberal, funny, searching, activists, shades of gray-seeing.

And so I’m in. I decided that for the first time in my adult life, I would join a religious organization. They even made me a rainbow name tag!