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.

The Band at Warbird Park

You should have seen me and the other walkers and joggers at the back of the pack as we exited what used to be the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base last Saturday morning. We were juking and jiving to the sounds of “Kansas City” that came from a band set up at Warbird Park. One of the advantages of being in the rear is that since you don’t have to worry about time, you can relax and enjoy the journey. I’d be willing to bet that many of the speedsters ahead of us didn’t even notice the band, much less let it affect their pace.

This is absolutely my last post about Saturday’s half-marathon in Myrtle Beach. If I had allowed my qualms about finishing get to me, I never would have experienced that sight or those sounds. Those guys were really into their music!

For some reason, I always get anxious and uptight before any kind of event such as this one. Tossing and turning, I often move from one bed to another, sometimes ending up on a couch. Friday night and the wee hours of Saturday morning were no exception. Desperate for a few hours of shut-eye, I even succumbed to biting off half of a Tylenol PM.

At some point during the night, I decided that I just wasn’t going to do it. Nope. That was all there was to it. I could not and would not embarrass myself by going out and walking 13.1 miles on such a sleep deficit. When it began to rain, that cemented the deal. I finally dozed off, and when I awoke at 4:30 a.m., my first thought was, “Let’s do this thing!”

Because of that decision I saw and heard and experienced things that I’d have missed otherwise.  Here are a few of them:

  • The excitement and energy of the crowd as we stood in the rain under the streetlights on Bob Grissom Parkway near Broadway at the Beach. It was especially cool to share some of those moments with one of my brothers.
  • A man running barefoot. Ouch.
  • A woman dressed in yellow from head to toe including her yellow headdress that was supposed to represent the sun.
  • The man in the orange t-shirt that I used to pace myself. Although I passed him from time to time, he proved to be my nemesis and crossed the finish line several minutes before I did.
  • The man holding the American flag aloft as he ran.
  • The man holding up his left hand in a gesture of peace.
  • More colorful and zany outfits than I have time to describe.
  • The strong headwind that just about did us in.
  • The sun coming up over the ocean.
  • The light in the steeple at First Baptist Church
  • The woman from Delaware that I crossed the finish line with. She had left 60 inches of snow the day before to travel to SC.
  • The experience of Facetiming with my son and his daughter as I strolled down Ocean Boulevard.
  • The enthusiastic cheers of Coastal Carolina students who offered water and Gatorade.

I’m glad I got out there and made some good memories. If anyone out there in Blogland has some half marathon or marathon memories to share, I’d sure like to hear them. Mike? Elaine?

Too Precious to Squander

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It’s no secret that I’ve been training for a half marathon this coming Saturday. Don’t get me wrong. I’m no speedster. It’s not like I’m going for the gold. Not at all. I just want to finish the 13.1 miles with a reserve of energy left for the day’s events. And I’d like to have only a minimal amount of discomfort. No stiff legs the next morning.

As I’ve trained (using this word a little loosely), a lot of advice and a number of platitudes have come back to me. I’m sharing a few in the hope that doing so might motivate you in some way whether it’s an exercise goal, an academic challenge, a work aspiration, or a family objective.

My first husband used to advise me to go for endurance and then work on speed. There are many people who do little to prepare themselves for success and then give it all they’ve got on the big day. This doesn’t work, at least not usually. One of my nephews did literally nothing to prepare for the Cooper River Bridge Run one year, and yet on the big day, he managed to whiz by all of us. However, he was 16 years old and physically fit.

Go the distance to reap the reward.

A platitude with a lot of truth behind it is “Winners never quit, and quitters never win.” For the most part, I believe that. If I were to sing and sing and sing and never get selected for the choir, I’d feel justified in quitting. Why? I’m just not good enough.

However, there are thousands, probably millions, of people out there who quit endeavors of all kinds, not because they don’t have what it takes but because they just aren’t motivated enough. Maybe they’re lazy. Maybe something else motivates them more. Or maybe they’re actually afraid of success. There’s a syndrome about that (FOS).

If I quit on Saturday, it will be because my left knee finally cracked.

When I was 34 years old, one of my best friends died of cancer, and until that time, I had never seriously considered just how quickly a person’s life could end. She was so young and beautiful. Recently married, she was just beginning to adjust to married life and was considering buying a house.

On the weekend of her funeral, I was jogging, my mind filled with memories of my friend, when I recalled an article I’d read in Runner’s World. The author told of coming upon a fatal accident while he was out running one morning. Disturbed by the scene, he jogged away with an increased appreciation for his healthy heart and lungs and thought, “Ah life!” Exactly!

Ah life! You’re too precious to squander.

I know there are readers out there who are working towards something, some goal that’s important to them. What advice can you add to the above? Or perhaps you’ll consider sharing a story of your own.