The Gun Post

On Wednesday, February 14, Valentine’s Day, once again, another normal school day erupted into tragedy. Seventeen families lost someone they loved. Social media devolved into fractious shouting matches slinging words like hand grenades as they turn away, cover their ears and protect themselves from the fall out. Few stop to mourn. Fewer still pause to calmly gather the data, listen to the stories, evaluate the evidence and make the changes this reflection prescribes. Beneath all the noise lies the truth, a harder yet ultimately more comforting truth than many are willing to face. The answer to violence is never more violence. Only when we stop selfishly clinging to our own lives and misguided imaginings will we be able to confront the evil in this world most recently manifested as a troubled 19-year-old boy returning to his former high school and taking seventeen lives.

Our misguided imaginings take shape through manipulated facts and logical fallacies. These misguided facts fall on both sides of the debate. For example, an article has circulated declaring that in the first seven weeks of 2018 there have been 18 school shootings. Many conservatives leapt on that article, quick to point out that some of those incidents included things like an accidental fire when a third grader pressed the trigger of a school security officer’s gun and unrelated shootings such as a robbery that happened to occur in a school parking lot. Those on the other side take the number and distort the facts by letting others assume that “shootings” mean incidences of mass casualties, like that which happened at Parkland. The group that collected the data defined their criteria as “any time a firearm discharges a live round inside a school building or on a school campus or grounds.”.

Other fact distortion comes with incomplete evaluation of the data. For example, one article I read harped on the fact that 30 years ago students brought their guns to school for target practice and nothing like this happened because society and their parents taught them well. Leaving aside the logical fallacies which I will address in the following paragraph, this particular article presented an incomplete argument through distorted facts. First, the article’s author includes photos from the 1960s and 70s. Thirty years ago was 1988. Columbine occurred merely eight years later. Second, the author drops in the sentence that automatic weapons like the AR15 were available back then before walking away leaving the reader to fill in the pieces. The author makes no mention of the specific availability of the weapon, the design of weapons available at the time or any other specific data. The reader ends up filling in the gaps with personal knowledge and assumptions.

The distortion of facts leads quickly to logical fallacies aided by a refusal to listen and participate in civil discourse. I have encountered a couple of examples of these fallacies. First, many rush to the generalization that we must arm teachers because the reason these lunatics target schools is because they know that schools are gun free zones. This line of thinking perfectly exhibits the peril of hasty generalization. People who indulge in this fallacy fail to consider the fact that these perpetrators, for the most part, are not spree killers. These perpetrators choose these targets because they have been bullied or have some other sort of grudge, some other offense has been perpetrated against them in their mind. They have a motive for choosing the school.

Second, I personally encountered an attack from someone in my church, on social media, via the logical fallacy of a false dichotomy. This person asked if I would not be willing to protect my students after I stated that I would never carry a gun or use one to take the life of another person. I responded that I would indeed protect my students even if that meant sacrificing my own life. This person’s next response presented the false dichotomy by asking if they had missed the part where I said that I would be willing to shoot the gunman who burst into my classroom. The false dichotomy is this. Either I carry a gun and shoot the gunman to protect my students or I do not protect them at all. When one runs to the extremes, you cannot possibly accurately reflect on the situation because you cannot see the whole picture.

That leaves my reality. My reality takes shape based on the following inputs: my profession, my education, and my beliefs. First, I teach in a public middle school. We have security procedures in place, procedures put into place after previous terrible incidents. People ask what I would do if the gunman burst into my classroom. The reality of the construction of the building, including the locked door, makes that scenario highly unlikely. Do we have a response for the pulled fire alarm scenario of Parkland? Not yet. I have confidence that that will be addressed. Additionally, I know the approximate developmental level of my students. They do not have the ability to make logical, reasonable decisions. Even if I were suitably trained and the weapon secured, I would not want that additional responsibility in addition to the ones I already carry.

Second, I have education as a historian. This education compels me to research the entire story before I draw a conclusion. I love statistics, as many historians do, and because of this love, I know how easily statistics can be manipulated and also wielded as tools of manipulation. Before I rush to judgment, I need to know the context of the information with which I am presented. I mentioned a few examples previously.

Finally, I believe firmly in the value of every human life, value derived from the fact that God created man in His own image. For this reason, carrying and using a gun will never be the way that I choose as defense. I will fight with everything in me to protect all those in my care. I will not, however, sink to taking the life of another human being. Sin makes me just as reprehensible in God’s eyes as this troubled young man who chose to take the lives of seventeen people, something that he will never be free from as long as he lives.

That leaves one question at the end of all this. What should be done? How can we prevent something like this from ever happening again? My first answer tends toward the pessimistic. As long as sin exists in the world, man will continue to inflict tragedy on other men. A true pessimist would throw her hands in the air and give in to the inevitable. I refuse to accept that response. No, if we hope to effect change for good, we must first grieve for those lost, grieve without letting that grief become obscured with hot, angry shouting. Next, with deliberate, yet determined calm, we need to gather the data and place that data within the appropriate context. Then, we need to be willing to set aside personal opinions, open to the fact that something we once held dear may be wrong. Only a fool persists in that which has been proven ineffective. Once that has been done, cool heads must come together, evaluate the evidence, reflect upon the effectiveness, and make the hard decisions that must be made.

What I Have Done With My Life

Recently, one of my cousins, one not yet 21 and married less than a year announced that he and his wife are expecting a baby due in August. This news stirred up turbulent emotions and disconcerting questions.

I first thought of my grandmother. She always wanted more babies in her life and a year after she died, a new generation begins. That irony makes me smile. Then my thoughts turned negative, turned to the fact that this cousin is the youngest of the eight of us save one. More than once my grandmother bemoaned the fact that I hadn’t made it a priority in my life to find a husband and give her some great-grandkids. After a while, I stopped reminding her that God had not seen fit to have my life unfold that way and that such comments hurt because they implied a lack of care on my part for things that actually matter a great deal.

Insidious thoughts of comparison crept into my mind. What did I have to show for my 32 years on this planet? My cousin at age 20 has a steady, decent-paying, stable job, a wife, a house and now a baby on the way. Me? The most significant thing I own is my car which currently has a left front tire leak. I live in the same house that I have lived in since my junior year of high school. I face stress and uncertainty at my job and frustration that I cannot seem to figure out ways to improve upon or simply navigate through certain things.

THat is a dangerous road to embark upon. Comparison sows seeds of bitter discontentment. I started to think that perhaps I needed to change something, maybe take on more work ,trim my expenses more or do something else drastic so that I could have something to show for what I have done with my life as if owning a house means that you are successful.

These thoughts battled in my mind with the knowledge that God does not care if my name is on the deed to a temporary structure that He actually owns. As I entered the auditorium for church, I felt conflicted; I simply did not understand. In my head, I knew that all the things of this earth that I could own or accomplish have no value yet I still want it; I crave the flimsy accolades of my fellow man.

I even debated whether or not I should write this post. What good would come from wallowing in self-pity with no answers on how to emerge from the muck. I had decided against it until God stepped in and reminded me of the truth.

The second song we sang that Sunday, the name of which I cannot remember, has the following chorus: “Hallelujah! All I have is Christ! Hallelujah! Jesus is my life!” As we sang these words, God opened my eyes. He reminded me of things I knew intellectually before. He helped me believe that He is all I need. I do not need home ownership or a husband or children or the accolades of man. Everything else I could list here pales in comparison to the incomparable glory and total need satisfying glory of God. He really is all that I need.

So, my original question remains. What have I done with my life? Nothing. I never could and I never will. God has control of my entire life for the good of His glory.

Hilton Head Island Half Marathon – Race Recap

Race #141
Half Marathon #45
South Carolina Half Marathon #32
2018 Race #2
2018 Half Marathon #1
Hilton Head Island Half Marathon #7 (8th consecutive time running)

Today turned out to not be my day on the race course. In the end though, I am still proud of the effort i put out and learned a couple things or at least figured out what I need to figure out.

Although I wrote out a training plan with a PR goal in mind, life got in the way as it continues to do. (That’s one of the things I need to figure out.) I thought about changing that goal to a second fastest half marathon time but wondered whether I should go for a faster time or just settle in and run with Mom, try to pace her to a PR. Then…she got struck with a nasty respiratory bug that wiped her out for at least 6 days, letting up somewhat only a day before we headed down. She hated to not run but she couldn’t. I switched back to a 1:45 goal and decided to run with the pacer.

This morning dawned bright and … humid. When I walked over to the breakfast area of the hotel and didn’t need my jacket, I knew today would be difficult on the course. I do not run well in the heat and especially the humidity. Plus, I have not been training in this sort of weather.

Hilton Head Half Marathon 2018
Clearly I look skeptical about my prospects.

I chose to run with the pacer and hope for the best.

I lined up right next to the 1:45 pacer and planned to not look at my Garmin for the majority of the race. (I met this goal at least.)

I really enjoyed the pacer. She, and her husband, chatted engagingly and made the miles pass quickly. I thought for a couple miles that I would be able make this happen. The clouds started to burn off just as we got out into the open on the Cross Island Parkway. I could feel the heat and humidity starting to get to me and in mile 4 I started to feel fatigue, lactic acid build up in my legs. I knew that I would not be able to maintain this pace for the remainder of the race.

Hilton Head Half Marathon 2018
Still happy and strong at mile 2.

Without intending to, I started to drop back, slowly drifting behind the pacer.

Mile 1: 7:38
Mile 2: 7:53
Mile 3: 7:46
Mile 4: 8:03

The negative thoughts started to infiltrate my mind but not in distinct thoughts, only a overall mindset.

Somewhere in mile 5 my pace slowed and I wanted to walk. I tried to get myself to keep running but I couldn’t. Immediately after I slowed to a walk two women passed me. That was all it took. I adjusted my shorts and started running again. I told myself that I needed to run my race and focus on running the pace I needed to run to get through the race without feeling like death warmed over.

Mile 5: 8:25

My least favorite part is the 1.5-2 mile stretch between Jarvis Creek Park and the bridge. It’s long, flat and somehow feels so much harder. Just before we got to the bridge however, a spectator stood on the side of the road holding a sign that said “Run Your Race.” I smiled; that sign confirmed my decision to back off and run a smart race.

Shortly after I fell off the pace group I switched the screen on my Garmin to the (blank) heart rate screen. I hadn’t looked at it while running with the pace group and barely looked at it for the rest of the race.

Mile 6: 8:38

I felt fine on the long side of the bridge even though the uphill felt longer than before. I loved the fact that I felt strong less than 20 minutes after feeling like I needed to walk.

I settled in and focused on running my pace. Barely halfway through, I was completely soaked in sweat, in early February. I knew I might be able to hang on to a sub 1:50 but as soon as I thought of that, I pushed it aside and reminded myself to concentrate on simply running my race, running a strong, consistent effort that would get me to the finish line in a reasonable time.

I didn’t even mind the usually obnoxious weaving back and forth through a parking lot to add mileage and the short “trail” section of the race. (I have commented before on the lack of imagination with this “update” to the course back in 2015.)

I wasn’t a fan of the massive headwind on the “back section” of the course, the section that comes right after the “trail” portion and just before the turn around. I appreciated that it

Just before I reached the turn around, I decided that that high humidity necessitated walking through the water stops and double cupping hydration on top of what I carried with me.

Mile 7: 8:48
Mile 8: 8:46

My pace did not really increase but I started to feel mentally stronger, this increase in mental strength was a welcome relief and was partially aided by the fact that instead of getting passed by people as I slowed down, I started passing people. Granted, most of them were marathoners with a whole lot of miles left, but still I’ll take the psychological boost.

When I got within the last 2.5 miles there was a point where just after we crossed a street we had to head back to the right side of the road, the side marked off by the cones. At first I did not realize that I needed to get over to the right; the volunteers neglected to tell me that when I passed them, clearly running on the left side of the road. As I looked up and saw the cones I turned and started back over to the right. Just at that time, the volunteers must have looked back and seen where I was on the course. They yelled at me, not nicely, to get over to the right. It upset me because clearly if they had paid attention I would not have been running on the left to start with and because they would have seen that I was heading to the right. I yelled back, not nicely, “I am!” This gave me a brief energy boost which wore off quickly because now came the bridge again.

Although the back half of the bridge ascends much sharper than the front side, it still felt long. I powered up and enjoyed the long, gently sloping decline and settled in for the two miles after the bridge that feel like 12.

I did not have much left when I made the turn back into Jarvis Creek Park but I tried to pick it up as much as I could. I came around the far side of the pond and could hear Ellis yell my name and say something about picking up the pace. Always encouraging. 😉

When I came around the final turn and headed toward the finish line I could see Mom, Ellis and Emily. (Ryan ran the half too. His first!) After a great big smile (and lots of hip collapse as evidenced in these pictures) I finished the race fairly strong.

Hilton Head Half Marathon 2018
Hilton Head Half Marathon 2018

Mile 9: 8:38
Mile 10: 8:51
Mile 11: 8:43
Mile 12: 8:54
Mile 13: 8:29
.1: 7:58
Overall: 1:51:33

And just for fun…the look on this woman’s face when she realized that she stepped in front of the camera. Slow motion fun.
Hilton Head Half Marathon 2018
Hilton Head Half Marathon 2018

Immediately after I finished I headed straight for the Gatorade and refilled my water bottle.

For everything that went into the race today, the weather, the fact that I had a little bit of a cold for the past couple days (but didn’t feel anything today), I think I did alright. In a latter post, I will write about the things that I have learned and possible ideas at breaking through this plateau.

I did not plan to stay for the awards, figuring that my slower time had put me out of contention. Instead we walked back to the hotel where I cleaned up, packed up, and checked the results just in case. I placed 2nd in my age group!

We had just enough time to walk back to Jarvis Creek Park for the awards ceremony where I got to hear the race director mispronounce my name, again, and pick up an extra medal. I will always take extra bling.

Overall, a good effort to kick off my 2018 half marathon efforts.

Telling People’s Stories

Long before podcasts gained popularity, I listened with avid interest. Months or years worth of episodes piled up on my iPod like a pile of raked leaves in the fall that I dove into and binge-listened to my heart’s content. Years ago, I alternated between podcast binging and audiobook listening but the advent of the “podcast age” relegated the audiobooks to a thing of the past.

One of the original podcasts that gripped my attention was Storycorp, a podcast produced by NPR. Although Storycorp now has an app of its own and many other ways for ordinary people to sit down and interview each other, the initiative began as a mobile recording booth set up in New York City’s Grand Central Station with one simple premise: collect people’s stories. Anyone could walk into the booth with a relative or friend and interview each other. Each person had a story worth telling and as a result of these recordings, each story now finds a permanent home in the Library of Congress archives alongside interviews form the Great Depression made as a part of the Federal Writer’s Project, recordings of former slaves and many more.

I recently had the opportunity to revisit this podcast in my podcast rotation and fell in love with it all over again. Each person featured, as well as all the ones not featured, has such an amazing story to tell. These people have names that only those in their personal circle of acquaintances know. These people have not achieved some noteworthy status in the eyes of the public. Many of these people, if described using simple adjectives, would appear as the very definition of ordinary. Yet they are not. A soldier tells of the terrible loss of his wife, a fellow soldier, in Iraq, giving honor to her life and laying bare his struggles with grief and PTSD> A woman and her son, a man with Asperger’s syndrome, over the course of three separate interviews, paint the picture of life with an ordinary yet extraordinary disease over the course of his journey from middle school to the brink of adulthood after a tumultuous journey through college. A mother lost her son yet through forgiveness and love gained another, the boy – now man – who killed her biological son. I could continue but I will refrain.

As I listened, my ind continually turned to thoughts of my grandfather, a man whose mind contains an immense, incalculable wealth of stories and memories. Even before my grandmother’s death last summer, I started pulling out my phone every time my grandfather started a trip down memory lane. My voice memo app holds only a fraction of the total percentage of the stories and memories he knows. These stories deserve to be told as well.

Throughout the past year of my blog and the past decade plus in my journals, I have done a good job at telling my story. It would be disingenuous of me to say that my story should not be told. However, a singular focus on myself neglects all those around me. They deserve to have their stories told. In the future, I hope to carve out space here – and elsewhere, though here especially – to tell the story of others. I will have to start small with my expectations and plans but one day soon, I hope to bring you my grandfather’s story and the story of many more.

The Peril of a House Divided

“A House Divided.” This phrase has resonated throughout history since its origin in the gospels. Most Americans associate the phrase with Abraham Lincoln who famously used it to describe the disastrous state of the United States during the Civil War. Recently this phrase and its implications became startlingly clear in my own work life.

The motto of my school is TEAM, Together Everyone Accomplishes More. in emails to the faculty and staff, administrators and faculty alike address the group as “Team.” In an ideal world. this sentiment would infuse our very action creating a powerhouse that worked to better the lives of every student in the school. As is too often the case, the team ideal stops at the surface only and acts as a screen which passive/aggressive actions can be hidden behind and hidden poorly. This reputation plagues my school throughout the district and has for years. I knew this when I took the job and prepared myself accordingly.

If I knew this when I took the job, what prompted me to write this piece now?

Last year, due to the tremendous turnover, only three of the eight seventh grade teachers taught seventh grade the year before, one other taught eighth and had moved down to seventh. The other four, including myself, were brand new to the school. God providentially put together a group of teachers who bonded personally and professionally, creating a real team that operated in lockstep to improve the lives and education of our students.

This cohesion appeared to threaten my principal. At the end of the year last year, almost all of us faced moving to another position. I was told that I would move to eighth grade. My cohort, before transferring to another school was supposed to move to related arts. The math teachers would move to sixth and eighth grade. One of the science teachers would move to sixth grade. There may have been other moves in the works that we did not know about. We fount hard to preserve our team. When the dust settled, six out of the eight of us returned in the exact same position. We started the current school year confident that our team unity would help us endure whatever chaos may come our way.

However, despite considerable advice to the contrary my principal made a decision of questionable legality which has resulted, so far, in the mid-year resignation of one teacher, the near resignation of at least three more and has fostered such intense resentment between some teachers that they walk past each other as if the other teacher did not exist.

Up until the end of January, the seventh grade still worked together, still presented a united front. Some interpersonal issues existed but that could be dealt with internally. We still had each other’s back or at least that’s what my team felt.

Last week my principal dropped a grenade into an already tense situation thanks to snow days and an uncertain testing schedule. This grenade found its origin in the decision I alluded to above. The concussive blast left us reeling. Word of the impending changes leaked out to the students, adding their justifiable fear and insecurity to the already unstable mix.

The previously united seventh grade team, the last man standing, began to splinter. Confusion and animosity soured the air of a meeting designed to help us reach a consensus. The death-blow came that afternoon when two members of the other team chose to air their grievances to the principal in a manner, intended or not, that cast blame on those who formerly worked with them to create a united front in the face of uncertainty.

Much of the fallout has yet to be felt. I choose to not speculate on another person’s motives. I still struggle to understand though. I struggle to comprehend how something like my justifiable confusion over testing schedule was interpreted as having malicious intent. I struggle to understand how we can repair these broken relationships for the sake of our students. I find myself baffled at the choice of going to supervisor with a problem rather than addressing the colleague first. I could fill an entire essay with the things I do not understand about this specific situation.

Some of the uncertainty has been resolved through top down intervention by our grade level administrator, an intervention which could have been avoided if we had been able to work together ass a team. Yet, my heart weighs heavy within me. I hurt for the fallout yet to come. I hurt for the destruction of a tight-knit friendship. I hurt for our students who may suffer because of everything involved.

With little effort, my pointing figure could find those upon whom to cast blame. That solves nothing. That continues and exacerbates the infliction of pain on the one who blames the perpetrator and all the innocent bystanders.

How do we move forward from here? How do I move forward? The easy thing to do would be to sink to the blame game and retreat to the safe haven of those I know will not hurt me or those I love. I am not called to do the easy thing. At this point, I do not speak for anyone else on my team although I have told them what I have chosen to do. As I move forward, I choose to let go of all the hurt caused by the actions of others, something I am able to do only with God’s help. Instead of holding onto hurt, I choose to extend the hand of friendship no matter how they choose to respond.

I harbor no illusion that my actions along will change anything. Why then do I choose to act in a way that could bring more personal hurt? I choose this bath because it is right. I may not be able to change anything but I serve a God who can change everything. Though things may appear hopeless for a moment, God will turn all things to His glory, even this. He will unite the divided house.

A Woman Alone – Travel Thoughts

Back in July, my father gifted a book titled A Woman Alone: Travel Tales from Around the Globe. I had never heard of the book before but the concept intrigued me for obvious reasons. Thanks to my book project I did not have a chance to read the book until the first week of this month.

As I read the book, I compared my own travels to those of the women in this book. That comparison inspired this post. I gleaned a few nuggets of reflection: technology advancement, writing inspiration, and relationship change.

After reading a significant portion of the book, I wondered when all of these essays had been written. Some aspects of travel remain timeless, but others? Others scream with outdated evidence. The book was published in 2001, 16 years ago. Technology has grown in leaps and bounds since then. Technology, in all my trips enables me to carry out a successful trip in so many ways. I read these accounts of trips carried out before the advent of smartphones, popular travel websites like tripadvisor or portable and reliable GPS technology and concluded that I woul dlikely have never undertaken such a trip, much less undertaken such a trip on my own. I have undertaken two significant solo trips and relied significantly on technology. Although I had yet to purchase a smartphone prior to my 2011 trip to England, I used tripadvisor and viator to find places to see and mapquest to print off specific direction. This past summer, I exploited current travel technology to its fullest: smartphone GPS, tripadvisor, airbnb, and digital camera for frequent and prolific picture taking. Reflection helped me realize just how much I rely on technology while traveling, just how much technology has changed travel.

I also noticed another common theme, writing, specifically writing as a profession. For the most part, the women whose essays appear in this collection make a living putting pen to paper in some fashion or another. They routinely filled their travels with thoughts of writing, inspiration for writing and actual writing. This might be the aspect of travel I enjoy the most even I seem to always run out of time since I spend every moment possible making memories I have often daydreamed of being some sort of travel journalists getting paid to do two things I love – travel and write.

Last, but not least, came the relationship example. Clearly, with the title, “A Woman Alone,” a good portion of the essays would end up focused on relationships. A few mentioned building relationships with strangers they met along the way. Far more described journeys undertaken as a means of catharsis after a messy divorce or as a means to prove one’s worth as a human being despite a perpetual state of singlehood. The vast majority of the essayists declared their unabashed preference for solo travel eschewing the companionship of others for whom they would have to alter or modify their trips. (Lest anyone think my brush too broad, I acknowledge the inclusion of at least five or so essays written by women who found themselves unexpectedly alone of their trip.) This concept gave me the most trouble as I read and tried to engage with each author. I have had both experiences – solo travel and group travel yet I would never totally eschew one for the other, especially group travel. Nothing would incline me to forge ahead with exclusive solo travel. I have done it before and enjoyed every minute. I enjoyed traveling at my pace, seeing destinations of my own choice and all the other things the essayists mentioned. Yet, I have a distinct memory from my life-changing trip to the UK six years ago. I thoroughly enjoyed and savored every moment of the trip yet I felt like something was missing. I realized after I returned home that I was missing someone to share those experiences with; I could not wait to return to the UK, this time with Mom along for the ride.

Unlike many of the essayists in this collection, or at least what they portrayed in their essays, I have no desire to travel to prove anything, to prove my worth. All that has been decided already. I travel for the experience, to trod where history has trod and to share that thrill with others. Sharing such experiences with someone close to you broadens and deepens every moment. It gives you the gift of an additional set of senses and perspectives. That’s the richness I seek.

Next summer, summer 2019, I plan to take off on another adventure, a grander, more expansive trip than I have ever taken. What started as an idea to finally see the Iberian Peninsula – Spain and Portugal – morphed into a minimum three week adventure starting with a flight into Frankfurt and a path winding through Alsace, France, Zurich and Geneva, Switzerland, Marseilles, France, Guernica, Barcelona, Toledo, Madrid, and Córdoba, Spain, Gibraltar (technically part of the United Kingdom) and finishing in Lisbon. There also may or may not be a short jaunt over to Lichtenstein as well, which puts the country total at seven if anyone counts.

Of course, as I read this book, I contemplated the aforementioned grand adventure. THe school year permits long blocks of vacation like this; my normal traveling partners have no such flexibility. I thought about the prospect of undertaking this trip on my own, daunting yes, but I know I could handle it. I would prefer, unlike many of the essayists in this compilation, to travel with someone to share and someone who would enrich the experiences. A year and a half line in between. We shall see what the future holds.

Greenville News Run Downtown 2018 – Race Recap

Race #140
5k #49
2018 Race #1
2017 5k #1
Greenville News Run Downtown 5k #6

After the unsuccessful PR effort at Jingle Jingle back in December, I briefly entertained another PR attempt here since I was already registered, emphasis on briefly. Instead, I shifted my focus, as planned to half marathon training since the Hilton Head Half is less than 3 weeks away.

If as originally planned, I had run this with Mom, I likely would have dialed the pace back just a tad to run this with her. However, she and Ellis had a training at church this weekend so she accidentally double booked herself and could not run the race with me this morning. (This also means that I have zero photographs of the race because I forgot to take any pre or post race selfies.)

I shifted my plan to incorporate the 9 more miles I had to run today and planned on the 5k being a tempo portion in the late middle portion of the overall 12 miles on the docket. I planned to arrive downtown around 8am for the 9am race, run 5 miles as a “warm up” and then run 4 miles afterwards. The plan started to change when I checked my phone this morning, 10 minutes before I planned to leave, and saw that it had decided not to charge all night while plugged into my computer. I needed more than 30% battery.

Then I ended up texting Mom. She has been unable to run for several days due to the winter weather and the lack of treadmill. (I am very thankful for the treadmill at my house.) She really wanted to run so I changed my plans and shifted the 9 extra miles to the afternoon once she finished with the training. (Thanks to my warm up and cool down before and after the race, that’s now only 7 miles.)

Now I had to make a game plan. Instead of making the race a tempo effort mid run, I would be running the race first and then several hours later, running 7-9 more miles. What would I do?

After some quick calculations, I decided on a race pace effort, half marathon race pace. My goal pace is 7:30, for the half. With the hilly downtown terrain in mind, I thought that would be a reasonable yet challenging goal.

I parked at University Ridge and ran to the start line and a little more to get in a full mile warm up and to lesson the amount of time I would have to stand and shiver at the start line. I ended up getting in a mile warm up at 9:30.

I wedged myself in about 5 people back from the start line and 3 minutes later we were off.

I continue to be amazed at the number of people who seed themselves at the start of a race like this who have absolutely no business being up that far. Thankfully we have all of Main Street to spread ourselves out on so the congestion was not an issue.

We started a block or so back from the normal start line. (I assume that the adjustments to the course had to be made due to the copious amount of construction going on downtown.) Thus, we enjoyed a significant downhill for the first half mile or so. I quickly settled into a pace that felt good and surprised me at how “fast” it was.

We soon started to head uphill as we continued on Main Street past Fluor Field. That hill nearly killed me in the last mile of my first marathon. Today? Not so much. I avoided looking at my watch to check the pace and focused on maintaining a steady effort.

Just before the end of the first mile we crested the hill and turned onto Vardry Street.

Mile 1: 7:34

At the time I had no idea what my split for mile 1 was because I did not feel the vibration of my watch. The next time I looked down at my watch I saw that my pace was 7:50ish and that it was approximately 1.08. Time to pick the pace back up after the hill. I could feel myself setting into the slightly slower pace. Now was not the time to get complacent.

Around this time I noticed a girl who was running approximately the same pace as me. She had on a Hub Fitness shirt. It quickly became my goal to keep her in my sights and make sure to pass “Hub girl” before the end of the race.

I felt really good through this section. Honestly, I felt really good through the entire race which I loved.

Three fairly quick turns later and we headed back down that same hill only one block over. Hub girl passed me. I quickly intimated that hills were not her forte and determined to not let her get too far away from my on this downhill so that I could pass her on the hill of death in mile 3.

I spent the latter half of mile 2 looking down at the ground. We ran past construction with plenty of dirt on the road. Thanks to the ice thaw this dirt had transformed into mud which would spell disaster if I did not tread carefully.

Mile 2: 7:20

The first third of mile 3 contains what passes for flat in downtown Greenville and a little bit of downhill before you turn onto River Street and head up the “Hill of Death.”

As we finished the second to last downhill, I looked ahead and could see the “Hill of Death” ahead. I determined right there that I would kill that hill, not the other way around.

Each time I run this race, this hill gets easier. I will not go so far as to say that the hill felt easy today but it certainly did not feel hard at all. The only point at which I felt ready for the hill to be done was right before we turned onto East North Street, right before the end of the hill.

I definitively passed “Hub girl” on that hill. Each step put her farther behind me. We we turned onto East North Street and then back onto Main, I knew that not much of the race lay ahead of me. I also knew that in the past I have started my sprint way too early in this race. Main Street marks the end but not quite as soon as all the runners expect.

I also knew, though, that I had plenty left in the tank since I had not full out raced this race; I treated it like a workout. I could afford a little pain at this point.

Just before we passed back under the start line, just before the end of the third mile I briefly considered slowing down. I dug deep, refused to listen and kept pushing.

Mile 3: 7:17

Instead of finishing on Main Street like we always have, we took a left on Broad Street. As I mentioned earlier, I assume that the slight course changes were necessitated by downtown construction.

I sprinted as hard as I could through this section. A few guys passed me, sprinting in a whole other gear that I could not possibly match. No other ladies passed me though.

.10: 6:10
Overall: 23:05

I finished pleased with my efforts. I had no idea when I finished that I had run nearly perfect negative splits, a goal that I like to have with 5ks but can never seem to execute.

Everything ran smoothly today.

Of course, coming in a mere 6 seconds away from another 22:xx effort makes the competitive part of me wish that I had pushed just a little bit harder in that last mile.

Overall though, I am pleased with my effort today. I raced exactly according to plan for the first time in a while.

This race revealed a few other things to me though as I looked back at my history with the race. As I looked back, I realized that I have run 5ks in the 22 minute range since 2013, five years ago. With the exceptions of my PR year, 2014, I have been in a significant plateau. Something needs to change if I want to break out of this plateau.
Also, I am not sure what explains the difference in ranking but this race, although I ran just my third fastest time, I earned my highest age group ranking out of any time I have raced this 5k, 5th in my age group. I’ll take that for sure.

Time to dig deep.

World War II – A Reframed View

While at the beach over Christmas, every evening we settled in to watch a couple episodes of a 2009 documentary titled “World War II in Color.” I learned a lot watching this mminiseries, not academically, but philosophically. This miniseries helped me reflect on the effect of war and also the role of the United States in that war. It struck a deep chord.

“World War II in Color” consists of 13 50+ minute episodes that used re-colorized black and white archival footage with a masterful voiceover narration. The episodes are organized in rough chronological order with a particular theme being followed until a stopping point is reached.

At first, my thoughts focused on the senseless waste of war. I watched as historic buildings fell prey to reckless, relentless bombardment. The early episodes mentioned nothing of the Holocaust, the iconic horror of the war; contemporaries had yet to discover evidence of the atrocity. My thoughts, with over 70 years of hindsight, kept this in mind as I watched the Germans bombard London, a city full of civilians and as their u-boats relentlessly bombed merchant ships bringing desperately needed supplies to Great Britain as she stood along against an indefatigable foe.

During the episodes describing Germany’s blitzkrieg advance across Europe, my thoughts began to shift. Multiple times Mom turned to me and asked “Did they know what was going on? How could the US see what was going on and not do something about it? The thoughts that come if one follows that “what if” to the possible conclusion of the US never becoming involved do not yield anything boast-worthy. If the US refrained from involvement and then concentration camps had been discovered?

The middle episodes dealt mainly with the European front. We watched as both the Allies and the Soviets gained the upper hand over the Germans and hitler’s actions showed an increasing lack of sanity and lucidity. History perished in flames as the allies engaged in strategic and carpet bombing over Germain cities in the hopes that such bombardment would break the spirits of the German people. This bombing did not have the desired effect. I listened to the muted tone of surprise in the narration and wondered how they could not see their own recent history of steadfast opposition during relentless bombardment. Could it be that the Allies simply could not fathom the fact that the Germans believed in their ideals just as strongly as the Allies did theirs?

As the Allies advanced towards Berlin from the west and the Soviets from the east, ruined cities and towns remained behind, their residents now tasked with rebuilding. Not only did bridges need reconstruction, rubble need clearing, and homes need reconstruction but people, also, needed an incredible amount of care, compassion and restoration. All of the countries involved in this war faced this, all of them save the United States. Only Pearl Harbor and the immediate surrounding area received direct hits.

Then came the final episodes of the miniseries, the one that described the conclusion of the war in the Pacific, the ultimate conclusion of the war. With regards to the earlier episode on the Pacific front, the one telling of the Japanese “blitzkrieg” over other Pacific countries and island nations, I noticed that, for the most part, the opposing forces fought over land not their own. When the Japanese took Hong Kong and Burma, they battled the British. When the Japanese took the Philippines, they battled the United States. The native people found their homeland torn apart and themselves subject to unspeakable violence at the hands of others with no say in the matter.

THe final episode discussed the violent, drawn-out, horrific end to World War II, an end which ushered in the nuclear age. The United States, the main Allied power on the Pacific front, faced an untenable situation. Their opponent had already demonstrated an utter unwillingness to stand down. When the Japanese had the upper hand, they rolled over the opposition like a steamroller. When the tide turned against them, they refused to surrender and went so far as to sacrifice their own lives rather than be taken prisoner. The infamous kamikaze pilots baffled the Americans as often happens when cultures clash. Americans have no concept of death before defeat as the Bushido code of the Samurai, a concept passed down and enshrined through generations.

The episode opened with talk of the victorious American advance. I knew, objectively, the opposition the Americans faced yet I watched as the United States began a campaign of fire bombing Japanese cities. As the United States moved closer to the Japanese home islands they moved within range for the bombers. They carpeted the city with incendiary bombs, burning whole cities to the ground. As we watched, Grandpa recalled his time in the occupational force and told us that when he looked out from his post, only burnt out, skeletal ruins met his view. Watching as Japanese city after city met a fiery fate, I could not help but think that the United States had gone from underdog to bully.

Of course, everyone knows how the war ended, Little Boy and Fat Man. I watched discussion of the Manhattan Project anticipating the horror to come. Even knowing the potential catastrophic loss of life on both sides that an invasion of the Japanese home islands would bring, the horror inflicted by the dropping of those two atomic bombs exceeds conceivability. History will forever remember the culpability of the United States in dropping the first nuclear weapons as an act of war. So far, only the United States has used such weapons. In an argument against nuclear proliferation, how could we possibly maintain the moral high ground?

The United States inflicted catastrophic, irreparable damage to people in a country that attacked the United States. The force of those bombs vaporized people. Ponder that. That’s the destruction the United States unleashed on a civilian population. Granted, even though countless tests had been run and calculations made, no one really knew, before that first drop, how the bombs would affect the city and the inhabitants thereof. Still, the United States did not drop one bomb. They dropped two, with the second one being even more destructive.

The end of the episode left me unsettled. I cannot square what the facts present with the image created through the rose-colored glasses of history written by the victors. As a child, I first learned that the Allies defeated an overwhelming evil. Great Britain stood strong against relentless German bombardment. The Allies liberated the concentration camps, thus putting an end to this unspeakable horror. The atomic bombs, as terrible as they were, ended the war months earlier than projected, thus saving hundreds of thousands of lives; those Japanese were crazy and would rather die than surrender when they knew they were beaten. This picture created in the history lessons of my childhood portrayed the Allies as the completely virtuous saviors and the Axis powers as indisputable evil incarnate.

No human being is completely virtuous or evil incarnate. Thus, a reframing of actions taken during World War II needs to happen. Were the Allies ultimately on the “right” side? Overwhelming opinion says yes. The Allies did not round up millions of people based solely on their race and systematically exterminate them. However, the United States did deprive thousands of American residents and citizens of Japanese descent of their liberty and possessions by relocating them to fairly inhospitable internment camps based solely on their ethnicity. Many other examples proving the less than entirely virtuous nature of the winning powers exists. I have mentioned a few earlier in this essay.

All of this leads to the conclusion that war is ugly. War contaminates everything it touches. War leaves broken bridges, buildings and people in its wake. War peels back pretty facades to reveal the ugliness within. Only with these thoughts in mind can World War II be properly framed.

A 2017 Retrospective

As I reflect on 2017 and reread my three, yes three, goal posts from the beginning of that year, I am struck by how appropriate my theme for 2018 really is. If I had applied that theme to my actions in 2017, I believe that I would have had greater success.

For this post, I will reflect on each goal in the same general format in which I published the original posts: running, finances, health and nutrition, reading and writing, and finally, teaching.

Before I reread my post on my running goals, I was sure that I had outright declared that 2017 would be the BQ year. (I did that in 2014 and learned my lesson.) Instead, I saw that I acknowledged that 2017 may not be my year but I would certainly try. As I documented, Chicago, while an awesome race, produced a time much slower than I expected or hoped. I know, looking back, that I shortchanged my training. The training plan I used called for specific paces and other techniques on the long runs. I took the easy route and executed exactly none of them. I should not have been surprised that I produced such a lackluster performance. I fI bothered to write out this plan, why did I not bother to execute it properly? Too hard. I considered it too hard or not something I wanted to bother with that day. That will change.

Of all the categories, I had the most success in the financial category. I have become much more intentional with my spending while avoiding the path to financial miserliness. (Been there. Done that.) Although I did not succeed in raising my savings rate to 40%, I did manage to raise it from 24% to 34%, a 10% increase. I managed this by increasing my income halfway through the year after submitting a change of action for my teaching certificate. I now earn a salary reflecting a Masters+30 instead of simply a Masters. (The +30 comes from my 2013 MA in History.) I also revamped my classroom rewards system which decreased the amount I spent on teaching related expenses. I spent $250 less on teaching related expenses in 2017 when I taught two semesters than 2016 when I taught one. I could continue into the minutiae but I will refrain.

My results for my health and nutrition goals were a mixed bag. I swung back and forth on things like drinking enough water (thanks to a schedule change for this school year) and consuming too much sugar, especially lately. I have also fallen into a food rut which has increased the tendency towards unhealthy eating. I plan to continue to work on this as part of the deep dive. One of the areas that directly affects my running performance is how I fuel, not just during the race but during training both during training runs and in daily life to prepare and recover.

When it comes to reading and writing, I have had success, especially with reading, but when it comes to writing, I have not been as successful as I hoped. I could discuss individual aspects of this goal that I set out in the initial post but those are specific surface habits I hoped to establish. Since they do not speak to the deep dive, I will not spend time discussing them now. I have, however, had success when it comes to writing. With the exception of two Tuesdays last year, missed because I failed to schedule the post, not write it, I have posted an essay each week, much more than I have regularly written, especially in nonfiction. I want to dive deeper though. I want to stretch myself and not only increase the volume but also the quality. This applies to my journaling as well. I came nowhere near my stated goal of daily journaling. I believe this will help significantly with all three of my chosen deep dives.

Finally, there’s teaching. (I’m skipping photography since I abandoned this goal shortly after making it.) This goal drives my theme for 2018. This goal typifies my grand planning which lacks proper execution. I can wax eloquent on what I want to do and even sketch out a plan for accomplishing those goals. My execution comes woefully short. I realized late last calendar year that I too easily succumbed to apathy. At the very end of the semester I realized that my observations of the inefficiencies (euphemism alert) led me to apathy. Instead of figuring out how to game the system for the sake of the students, the reason I am there after all, I gave up. I went through the motions, met the bare minimum required while chafing under the intense, and often unjustified scrutiny. This will be my main focus area for 2018, the area I struggled with the most in 2017.

2018: The Deep Dive

With the start of the new year comes a preponderance of resolutions, anti-resolutions, intentions and every shade in between. I have found myself in many of those camps. I have made specific resolutions. I have made goals, goals upon goals. Last year, I set up some intentions which I will revisit in next week’s post. I have even contemplated abandoning goals for the year altogether. So, where does this leave me for this year?

This year, I have chosen a theme, a specific thought to keep in mind throughout the year to focus on. The biggest reason that I chose a theme rather than specific goals strikes right at the heart of the theme itself, the deep dive.

Just weeks ago, I finally figured out something that has plagued me for as long as I can remember. I have a lot of grand ideas; I like to make big, audacious goals. Many times, however, those audacious goals morph into things easily accomplished by surface activities like reading a certain number of books or taking a bunch of pictures.

I have some big goals that I have yet to accomplish, like qualifying for Boston or publishing a novel. I will not go so far as to say that my reluctance to dive deep has kept me from accomplishing those goals. It is, however, a significant factor.

This tendency to approach the meaty, significant work like a magnet approaching another similarly charged magnet has affected my teaching. Over the past year and a half, I observed how relatively easy it has been for me to knock out grading or formatting as compared to data analysis or unit planning. I desperately want to change this.

Thus, my theme for 2018 is “dive deep” in three specific areas: teaching, writing and running.

How will this work?

The main thing I plan to actively do this year is consistently remind myself to dive deep, keep going even when the going gets hard. This means that I will prioritize those three things over other things that I like to do such as reading and cross stitching. I do not plan to cut those things out entirely, simply reprioritize them.

I do not expect that this change will occur overnight. These habits have grown for nearly htree decades and will take a bit of time to reform. This theme also serves as my goal, my intention, for 2018. I want to look back on 2018 and see quality experiences in those three areas and more. When I read a book, I want to slow down and dig deep, really comprehend and glean significant information from the book. When I write, I want to dig deep as I put pen to paper, crafting narratives that address reality in real, quality ways. When I run a race, I want that performance accurately reflect all the effort that I put into training. When I look back at the two semesters of the year, I want to see performances from my students that reflect teaching molded and modified to best reach the students where they are so that they can succeed on the arbitrary high stakes tests.

Part of me wonders if I have bitten off more than I can chew. That part still clings to the idea that I will be able to achieve this depth and maintain it while still balancing my achiever tendencies regarding the ideas of “read-all-the-books” and “complete-every-cross-stitch piece” and, well, I could go on. This tendency will be the tendency, or in other words, habit, which I will strive to change in 2018.

From breadth to depth.