The Only Way Out

The only way out is through. I’ve been familiar with that truism for so long that it almost always springs to mind when I learn of someone who’s going through a difficult time. Whether physical, emotional, social, or spiritual, people just want to be “done.” They want the pain, uneasiness, anxiety, heartache, trauma, or ____________ to end. But it’s not that easy. Like Frost says, “I can see no way out but through.” 

And you have to get through. That’s where the good stuff is—the light, the victory, the prize, the A, the blue ribbon, the accomplishment, the baby, the increased confidence.

Last week we went on a triple date to see Midway. Afterwards we went to Top Dawg at Sandhills to discuss the movie over a late lunch. I kept thinking about a scene that had impressed me and tentatively mentioned it to the five at the table, tentatively because I thought they might think it was sappy or sentimental.  

Dick Best, a dive bomber, is leaving for Midway and having a conversation with his gunner who is scared stiff of what might lie ahead. Best seems annoyed with the young man and heads toward the exit. But then he stops, turns around, and speaks his truth. He tells the gunner that he can stay right there on the ship if he wants to, but that later he’ll remember the moment when he decided to let his fear prevent him from fulfilling part of his destiny. He’ll remember that while others were fighting for their country, he was sitting below deck nursing his dread and succumbing to panic. 

Those weren’t exactly Best’s words, but that’s the gist of his remarks. His gunner suits up. The following scenes are traumatic and terrifying. And yet, what could the men do? The only way out was through. 

Everyone in the booth at Top Dawg agreed that the scene taught a powerful lesson. One of the men went so far as to say that was one of the most important things for all people to consider when they think of quitting, turning away, giving up, or taking the path of least resistance. Although the scene portraying the conversation between Best and his gunner took less a minute, it made me realize that a person’s life could be turned around by hearing the right words from the right person at the right time.

I’ll never fly a bombing mission…too old—and a fraidy cat to boot. But like everyone reading this, I’ve realized the truth of The only way out is through many times.

One incident took place early one August morning when I was in labor with my first child. The pains became increasingly unpleasant (understatement) and closer together, and I turned toward my husband and said, “I don’t think I can do this any longer.” It’s been decades, but as well as I can recall, he didn’t say anything, just gave me a helpless look. I mean really, what could he or anyone else in the room say? I was in it for the duration. There was no backing out. The only way out was through.

My first beautiful daughter was born about four hours later–a miracle, a treasure, a delight well worth any discomfort.

When younger, my brothers and I participated in a few marathons and half-marathons. In fact, the baby mentioned in the above paragraph signed up for a Team in Training Marathon for the Leukemia Society. It was to take place in Alaska on June 21, and it sounded like a fun thing to do. I registered. So did about four dozen other people from the Myrtle Beach area. We went to motivational lectures, walked/jogged/ran with our would-be marathoners, and had yard sales and other fundraisers to collect the $3,200 (each) to participate. The fee paid for airfare to and from Anchorage and two-night accommodations, and the rest went toward leukemia research.

There were times, especially when jogging along what seemed to be endless miles of Army tank trails, when I felt like quitting. But where would I go? The Red Cross was always nearby to whisk weary or wounded people to the end for medical help. But sheesh, how could I embarrass myself like that? The only way out was through.

Even now, nearly twenty-five years later, I can still recall a small clearing near a bridge where water and fresh bread were being distributed. I’ve never tasted water so fresh nor bread so satisfying. Nor have I forgotten the sounds of cheering as we crossed the finish line in a high school parking lot six hours after my first step. 

This blog has gone on far too long. It’s your turn to share an instance of the only way out is through. I like success stories, but stories in which people give up are welcome, too.

Good to Go

It will probably take several days for my skin to recover from yesterday’s wind. By the time the half marathon in Myrtle Beach was history, my face was red, parched, and stinging. Walking 13.1 miles straight into the wind can do that. Okay, maybe it wasn’t the entire 13.1; maybe it was only 12. Without a doubt, I know that anyone who participated in yesterday’s event will say, “Wind!” if asked about the weather conditions.

Yep, it was brutal. But here’s the thing. In a few days, my skin will be “right as rain,” as the cliché goes.  It won’t be glowing and luminous the way a 25-year-old’s skin would, but well, you know, I’m not 25. What I’m saying is that my face won’t hurt anymore and that it will be back to a senior citizen’s normal.

Why am I going on and on about my skin? It’s because of some comments I heard back in 1996 before I did my first full marathon. The event was to take place in Anchorage, Alaska, and several dozen people from Myrtle Beach and surrounding areas were part of Leukemia Team in Training group. We met  at least once per week to learn about Anchorage, leukemia research, and how to train for a marathon.

One night we were privileged to hear from a woman from Sumter, SC who had participated in the Anchorage event the year before. Some of her words made a lasting impression on me, and yesterday they resurfaced and reminded me that after a certain point, whining and complaining about injuries and discomfort are taboo. I say “after a certain point” because it’s permissible to share war stories. However, NO ONE wants to hear another person go on and on and on about shin splints or stiffness.

In my words, here’s the gist of what she said: The morning after the marathon, you’re going to be stiff and achy. You’ll feel pain in parts of your body you never knew you had. You might not be able to walk normally for several days. But for the most part, after a good night’s sleep and a warm shower, you’ll begin to feel better. And a day or two after that, you’ll be “good to go.” However, the leukemia patients that you’re walking/jogging/running for aren’t so lucky. They need more than a warm bath and good night’s sleep. They may, in fact, never be as fortunate as you are right this minute.

Those words were sobering and powerful.

We left Alaska on a Sunday morning and had a layover in Salt Lake City. From the airport, I called my friend who had multiple myeloma, a form of leukemia. She was “resting,” and we didn’t talk but a few minutes. I hung up the phone knowing that I was alive and well on the mend. My friend was weak, tired, and in need of a miracle. She has long since passed away, and I have a red, stinging face and a little bit of stiffness.

I’ve never whined about walking or jogging related injuries since that afternoon. I might complain just a tiny bit, but I prefer to call that type of complaining just stating the facts. After that, I think about the motivational talk I heard in the gymnasium on the old Myrtle Beach Air Force Base back in 1996. And I think about my friend Linda.