Tuesday, April 30, 2013

One Mile at a Time - Running NYC with Team DetermiNation

Two weeks ago today, I had a text conversation with one of my BRFs (Best Running Friends) which went like this:
BRF: When your head feels better I'm going to try talking you into running the NYC full with us. So that's a thing that will happen.
Me: This fall?!?!
BRF: Shhhh. Your head hurts. this isn't really happening. It's a dream. Zzzzzzz. (Yes this fall.)

This past Saturday night, just before my body melted into my Washington, DC hotel bed with visions of the Nike Women's Half Marathon dancing around in my head, I signed up with Team DetermiNation to fundraise thousands of dollars for guaranteed entry into the NYC marathon. It still feels a little surreal, but I am confident the time is right. Running has brought me to an amazing point in my life and there is no more special place for me to run my first 26.2 than in NYC and no more special organization to benefit than ACS.

A favorite family photo - LBI vacation, July 2011
I plan to run the NYC Marathon in memory of Joe.
In November 2011, just before Joe passed away, my friend Christon ran the NYC Marathon in his honor as a part of the American Cancer Society DetermiNation team. At the time Joe was in and out of the hospital with care and treatments so having someone who was willing to put the time and effort into fundraising thousands of dollars and then running 26.2 miles with us on her mind was a huge emotional and spiritual boost. It really meant the world to us then and I will never forget it. So, when my friend Melissa asked me to join her and her husband Paul this year as they run NYC with Team DetermiNation, even in my migraine-induced state I knew it was an offer I couldn't refuse (yes, that was a shameless nod to The Godfather which Joe and I both loved).

Although Joe will never get to greet me at the finish line of a race, he is there with me every time I run. When I feel like giving up, I remember his determination in the fight and I think to myself - if Joe could get through that, then I can run one more mile. So, on November 3rd, that's what I'll do. I will run one more mile and one more mile and one more mile until I have run 26.2 of them. Won't you visit my page today and make a donation or pass along the link to someone else who can?

I couldn't be more thankful for the love and support I've received from family, friends, fellow runners, and even total strangers through Joe's illness and since his passing. Over the next six months, I know that I will see even more of that love and support poured out as I train and raise funds. Together we can make a difference in the fight against cancer, a fight for more birthdays and less cancer...one mile at a time!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Tears, Democracy, & Progress

This time last week I was anxiously awaiting the official start of my Union's Convention in Pittsburgh. I had already spent two days with many of my Union sisters in brothers in pre-meetings and in social settings - we had packed a lot into the 48 hours of Saturday and Sunday, but I really had no idea of all that still was to come or how moving this year's Convention would be for me.

We were only minutes into CWA's 74th Convention before I was overcome with emotion. It was only the invocation but there was no holding back the tears as I heard THOSE words. I had seen that photo of Martin Richard, the Boston Marathon victim who had made the "No more hurting people. Peace." sign, so many times over the past week that it was etched in my brain. With images from the Boston Marathon playing in my mind, I once again thought of my friends who were there and then of the half marathon finish line I would be crossing in DC in less than a week (the line in fact that I crossed this morning, to the tune of a 7 minute personal record and with a large crowd which included my own 2 year old son cheering us on). No More Hurting People. Peace. It was a plea for the next 48 hours, for the next week and for all the work that we do. It was a truly poetic way to begin what was the most meaningful CWA Convention I have yet to take part in.

CWA Convention 2013
I have been an organizer with CWA for 13 years. In that time I have written papers with other organizers and engaged in countless roundtable discussions about the need to increase resources for organizing. While the years have brought some changes, up until now all of those discussions and papers had led to very little fundamental change and had continued to leave us with an inadequate bench of resources to deal with the organizing challenges ahead of us. Thanks to several Local leaders from District 1 and the bold vision of our Union's Defense Fund Oversight Committee, this year brought change that will truly revolutionize the way we are able to organize and build movements in our communities. I can't describe the emotions that welled up inside me as I listened to Kevin Sheil, President of Local 1103 deliver the following words on our Convention floor with a long line of supportive delegates behind him at the mic:

"If we acknowledge that the Union—and the entire labor movement—are facing the greatest challenges in our history, then it's clear that for CWA’s future and our future, foresight, new thinking, and a bold approach are required.  This is not the time for superficial or incremental change.  If we are to leave this union in a better place for the next generation, then we must go big and bold while we can.  We can only do that by growing our union through organizing and movement building.  We must focus like a laser on growing our union.   We need to give ourselves the tools to take us into the future.   We have no choice but to evolve into a more flexible union for the greater good.  In order for us to shape our future, we must give our union the space to become more effective, efficient and responsive.  At the end of the day it will take sacrifice and a willingness to endure some hardship, but it must be done.  If we have the courage, we have an opportunity to alter the trajectory of our union.  Today is a great day to start…"

Approval of this proposal was not automatic. There was an attempt from the floor to water it down and to delay action for two more years until the next Convention. Instead, delegates boldly rallied behind fighting back against corporate interests by making a commitment to unorganized workers and I couldn't be more proud. (For details on this proposal check out CWA's link here.) Once again, I cried - this time happy tears as my sisters and brothers voted to move our Union forward by leaps and bounds.

Later that afternoon delegates considered a controversial proposal regarding the creation of a telecom VP to oversee bargaining. There was spirited debate and, in the end, a roll call vote of all delegates to determine the final outcome. The whole process was a reminder to me of one of the greatest strengths of our Union - a unifying spirit of union democracy. Even when members disagree on particular issues, on the appropriate path for fighting back against the boss or the best way to structure our movement for the future, there is a commitment to the process of internal union democracy and that is a powerful thing. Seeing delegates line up to speak, engage in a lively debate on the floor, and in the end swipe their badges representing their delegate voting strength to determine a final tally on an issue - all makes me proud to be CWA.

I have to admit that by the time Tuesday morning rolled around, it was still hard for me to believe that delegates had already committed what would amount to millions of dollars to organizing and movement building. That morning I tweeted: Still pinching myself over millions of dollars dedicated to organizing by delegates to the #cwaunion2013 convention yesterday. Long overdue.

But there was so much more to come.

From our Flight Attendants we heard the welcome news that TSA had just delayed implementation on its knives on planes policy. I'm sure I don't have to explain to the readers of my blog the stupidity of this policy nor the obvious emotion attached to asking Flight Attendants to tolerate the re-introduction of knives back into the cabins of airplanes - especially when it has become known that the impetus behind the policy change is none other than knife companies and lobbyists. The announcement of the delayed implementation was met with much excitement by the delegates and guests at our Convention, and I once again found my eyes welling up as I thought of the many FAs who I now call friends for whom this fight is very personal. We were reminded, of course, that this was nothing more than a temporary reprieve, certainly a result of our pressure campaign, but by no means the end of the No Knives on Planes campaign. There is no set timetable on the delay (meaning the TSA could move forward with implementation at any time) so it was inspiring to see so many delegates take action with postcards and luggage stickers in support (www.noknivesonplanes.com for more info). I even brought home some stickers for us to use on our own trip to DC this past weekend - my little guy LOVED them!
My little guy with his No Knives on Planes sticker
while we were in DC this past weekend.
The Civil Rights and Equity Committee had presented their report on Monday afternoon. It included a discussion of our nation's gun laws, a call for comprehensive immigration reform, and a moving story that gave us a glimpse into the heartbreaking realities of LGBT inequality even within our own unionized workplaces. Delegates not only adopted the report of the Civil Rights and Equity Committee, but on Tuesday passed resolutions in support of comprehensive immigration reform and in support of efforts to remove health insurance exclusions that prevent transgender individuals from accessing care. The resolution on transgender healthcare passed unanimously and once again I couldn't hold back the tears of joy that this was my Union. 

The original resolution on immigration reform contained a reference to securing all of our nation's borders and a passionate motion was made from the floor to amend the resolution to eliminate this bullet point.  It was agreed by delegates that this was not our issue for reform and the final resolution was passed without it. Amen.

(For a summary of these and other resolutions acted on at this CWA Convention click here.)

I was moved by the thoughtful and activist nature of the many delegates I encountered at this Convention. CWA is full of inspired and inspiring people who want to make a difference in their workplaces and their communities. That alone was a huge encouragement.

There was someone very obviously missing from this Convention though and when his smiling face came up on the Memorials screen I made no effort to hold back my tears. I was surrounded by Local officers about to receive awards for organizing and other organizers in the Union who had worked with them. This was where Seth would have been - with this community of organizers and organizing Locals. I thought back to the countless organizing strategy conversations we had over the years, the many laughs we had shared, and the way he inspired so many of CWA's organizers and activists. And then, something amazing happened. An overwhelming sense of peace came over me - he would have been so proud of us this year. The delegates to this Convention did some pretty progressive things, not the least of which was committing more resources towards organizing than ever before.  I think this smiling photo of Seth looking out over this Convention was fitting. We honored him not only during our Memorials, but by moving our Union forward in the struggle to organize and to support working people everywhere who are fighting for improvements.
Photo by @KenCWA
I think it's fitting to close this post by looking back to something I wrote on my blog right after Seth passed in July. I re-read that post as I was writing this one and was struck by this part especially:

"As I think back over this weekend, I am still sad, but I am also thankful to Seth for the moving example of what it means to live and love and... plant trees. It's a reminder to me that everything we do is building a certain type of life in a certain world. It's up to us to choose each day to make each of those the best they can be." 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

We Are Runners

This morning I completed my last long run before my next race. This wasn't just any long run though and my next race will definitely not be just any race. 

Yesterday - Monday, April 15 - I followed along on Twitter and the web with much of the rest of the running community as friends and fellow runners participated in the Boston Marathon and then watched in horror as the news came in of the explosions at the finish line. From the time I first learned of the tragedy until the time that I was able to confirm my friends were ok via Twitter only a minute or two had passed, but it certainly felt like time stood still. The rest of the day was like a fog. 

I can't explain to non-runners what running has come to mean to me over the last year since I took it up again. In fact the tears are welling up in my eyes right now as I type this. It's about more than just the act of running - it's about the RUNNERS. It's about Malinda and Melissa, two mother runner Afghan Whigs fans who also happen to be fundraising machines in the fight against cancer. We've become the best of friends after meeting last year. It's about Sarah & Dimity who I was lucky enough to meet in Montclair last week, authors of the book Train Like a Mother and all around awesome people, to whom I give at least half the credit for getting me across my first 13.1 finish line. It's about the DOZENS of RUNNERS on Twitter who have inspired me to keep pushing on both in running and in life.

When I think of yesterday's attack, I think of each of them and each of their families. I think of my own son, friend, and cousin who waited for me at the finish line of my first half marathon in Miami Beach. I think of who will be waiting there for me at future races. 

As I set out for my run early this morning, these are the things that were on my mind. I've never gone for a run before the sunrise, but there was something calming about my parents' neighborhood at that time. Then, as Teenage Wristband by the Twilight Singers came on my iPod and I thought back to the roadtrip I took with Malinda and Melissa for New Years, I gained some strength. We are runners. We are strong. That doesn't mean we won't mourn. That doesn't mean we won't be angry. It doesn't even mean that we won't from time to time come completely undone.

But we will push on. 

As best we can, we will push on.

In 10 days, I will run my second half marathon in Washington, DC - the Nike Women's Half Marathon. I will run it with Malinda & Melissa, two of the most amazing women I know. We may for our own sanity have our families cheer us on from some spot other than the finish. We may look over our shoulders a few more times than normal. We will certainly do whatever we need to do to support Malinda, who was a spectator in Boston, cheering on her twin sister Leah (who finished shortly before the blasts). But in the end, we will run. Why? Because we are runners and it is what we do. We will be there for each other and we will push on to the finish.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

1:24am - Time for a Little Go On Again

April is the sort of month when I could easily eat the whole box of Girl Scout cookies in one sitting with some sappy movie playing on the TV.  Last Saturday was particularly bad - mostly because it was a day with nothing on the agenda. That bag of cookies was staring at me from my kitchen table, almost laughing. Would it be the box of Thin Mints or the box of Tagalongs?

I knew that April would be tough, but I've also been recognizing more and more over the past several months that my grief journey has brought me to a place that is mostly full of joy in life and a measured hope for what may lie ahead. The truth is that most days I remember my Joe with a smile on my face and a sense of joy in my heart. That certainly wasn't always the case, and it's definitely not true of every day or of every moment of every day, but I do notice a vast difference from those first few miserable months.

I feel like I was prepared for the emotion of Easter and I cried when the sun rose over Lake Carnegie and when we sang The Strife is O'er in our service later that day. The emotion was raw as I watched Domani hunt for his Easter eggs, remembering just two years ago when Joe was there helping him.

At Easter sunrise service
Easter, with its imagery of death and resurrection, brought some inevitable tears and I suspect it always will, but when I woke up Monday morning I was caught off guard once again by the calendar flip. For those unfamiliar with the calendar flip, this is that moment for a grieving person when you realize a difficult month is upon you.  It happened to me with full force in December (the month which marked 1 year since Joe passed) and a couple of other times. I have heard other grieving people refer to this affecting them as well.

That first week of April was packed with memories and moments. Monday was Opening Day and we had tickets that I had won in a Mets Instagram photo contest. I went to the game with my parents and the little guy and watched the Mets knock a grand slam out of the park on the way to an overwhelming 11-2 victory. Opening Day without Joe is hard, but we had a great time and there was nowhere else in the world I would have rather been at that moment.

Opening Day - April 1, 2013
Then came Thursday and Joe's birthday. He would have been 38. Much too young for a "would have been" birthday. The little guy and I found ourselves back at Citifield, this time with my Dad and my friend Michele. Despite a homerun from John Buck (those seem to happen EVERY game, right?), the Mets couldn't pull out a win. It was an emotional day, but seeing Domani's joy at the Mets apple and being able to cheer with him at a place that was special to Joe and me was a great way to remember him and his birthday.
Mets v. Marlins game on April 4, 2013

The next day marked 15 months since Joe passed and was also a night out to eat with some of the women in my young spouse bereavement group. Over dinner the subject turned to signs and through the sharing of some of the other women I made a connection that I hadn't before. There were quite a few instances that were shared where lights would go on (or off) unexpectedly or there would be some other similar electrical oddity which would point to their loved one. It was at that moment that I realized WHEN the radio had gone out in Joe's car (a car he had bought new less than six months before he passed away mind you). The radio went out right around the one year anniversary of his passing. Strangely, this realization brought me some comfort and being able to share it with some other amazing women who are also missing their husbands was special.

Perhaps the toughest day so far for me in April was last Saturday. I've realized that often happens when I don't have a lot going on or when there are things I am stressed about. For me, some of the loneliest times are Saturday and Sunday evenings. This particular Saturday evening I had a fussy toddler and a migraine which made things infinitely more difficult. I decided the only logical solution was to pop my meds, let the little guy sleep in my bed, and turn on 50/50 (laugh/cry movie of choice these days) until I made it through to Sunday. It worked. Some days are just like that, even 15 months later.

This past week I watched the season finale of Go On and in typical fashion it captured exactly what I've been feeling in one simple moment. At the end of the episode, there is a scene where Matthew Perry's character Ryan King is remembering how he took his wife Janie to a batting cage on their wedding day. And then, there is that voice over. It's a voice over I feel like I could have had throughout my whole week and really throughout the last several months.

"Ted Williams said that the hardest thing to do in a sport is to hit a baseball - round ball, round bat, and you have to hit it square...it's not easy, but when you connect and you hear that sound you just, you just feel like everything is going to be ok. It may feel like a solitary sport when you step into the box, but the truth is - you're one of nine." During the voice over, it cuts away to Ryan finally sleeping through 1:23am (see my blog post about the significance of that here) with the digital clock in his bedroom clicking through to 1:24am while he is still sound asleep.

I sit here as I type watching Trainspotting on The Movie Channel. Joe and I went to see this in the theater on our very first date. I mean our VERY first date - when I had not yet even started college and he was only 21. It seems like a lifetime ago. This time last year I would have been bawling my eyes out at this movie and the memory, but now, tonight, it makes me smile. It was a great first date and I will never forget it. I guess that's the point of going on...not forgetting, just living with what your life is now - weaving in the old with the new and knowing that somehow everything is going to be ok.