Surviving a punch in the gut

It was one of those days which felt like the universe was screwing with me. A series of small, but meaningful, successes around some projects I’ve been working on had me feeling quite great. Almost giddy as a matter of fact. Then came the email with the news: My friend and Buffalo News colleague Allen Wilson’s illness took a critical turn for the worse. While there is always hope, it has been reduced to a sliver. His body is badly beaten and indications are that he will be leaving our physical world all too soon.

It felt like a punch in the gut. Only it wasn’t a punch in the gut. A punch in the gut is clean, clear and direct. This was anything but clean, clear and direct. I felt flooded with conflicting thoughts and emotions. Certainly I am not the story here. Big Al is along with his wife, Lisa, and their daughter Alissa. My love, respect, gratitude and admiration for them is boundless and watching this tragedy unfold over the last few months, have left my heart broken.

Now is not the appropriate time to eulogize my friend because to me, even a sliver of hope is a sliver that needs to be honored. But I want to keep my memories of Al positive, life-affirming and filled with fun, laughter and support — three gifts I always received when I was around Allen. I chose to think of those gifts this morning when I went on my tempo run. It was a challenging pace over 5 miles and frankly, I wasn’t sure I could make it, wasn’t sure how much it mattered in the grand scheme of things. Thankfully, I had my friend Sue with me, who dragged my butt through the run, reminding me that I would feel better at the end.

And I did. This is not a surprise. It’s accepted medically that exercise makes us feel happy and calm and researchers are getting close to understanding exactly why this is so. Sometimes, it helps to run out your feelings. The release is better than the repression for many reasons and ultimately for many people, not just myself. As much as I dreaded the tempo run, as difficult as it was at times, I knew the challenge was good. And just as important as the physical release was the tangible reminder of how important positive thoughts are in creating my life.

Thinking good thoughts didn’t necessarily make Mile 4 any easier. Thinking good thoughts won’t necessarily make Allen better. But the good thoughts matter. They matter because they go deeper than wishful thinking. The good thoughts create positive energy. They allow us to rise to a challenge, to tap into the strength and confidence that’s inside us. Sometimes we forget just how deep our reserves of strength and confidence are. And sometimes, we don’t realize how easy it is to borrow from the stores of our friends when our own wells are running low. I can’t stop my heart from breaking, but I can tap into my reserves of strength and faith and love. And somehow, I hope, that will serve as my gift back to Allen.

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