This morning as I was talking to Gabe I thought back to my first summer in Austin. I had met Joe and Joyce before, but not many others. I had been running trails already for sometime, but as a Houstonian a different community. In Houston I had my immediate family and my best friends, who were also my running partners. In Austin I had neither.
It was that first summer that I found my Austin family...I just didn't totally remember that until today. It was Sundays at Bull Creek with Henry, Mike, Jim and sometimes Robert and Diana....and of course Joe with an appearance or two. It was Thursday evenings at Ladera with Paul, Joe, Joyce once, and even their kids. Joe was there to teach Paul and I how to run downhill like we meant it. Then it was oh so many runs with Shan on every trail, and up and down Jester. Little by little I met oh so many more of this group, and always felt a part of it. I was always included, and always enjoyed my time with them. But all of this became so much more than running to me, they became my extended family.
As time has gone on in Austin, and our life has settled, I find that I do so many more runs on my own and spend so much less time with people I used to make time for...until this past week.
You may not always be so close to your family, but when they hurt or need you...you are there. That is what I tried to do this week and the gift actually came back to me ten-fold. A week ago Friday in a terrible tragedy, one of our friends and fellow trailrunners died on the trail. We all went out and aided Search and Rescue last Sunday, and one of our friends and fellow trailrunners found him in the debris on the trail. Words cannot fully describe the loss or the details of being part of that, but my friends who found him gave the greatest gift of speedy closure to his daughter and the rest of his family.
I felt so helpless. I didn't know this man very well, except for brief encounters on Saturday mornings on the trail. But what I knew what that my friends, people who had welcomed me into their family, were in such pain. I just wanted to make it better.
One of our club members decided to set up a memorial run for this morning, and his family set up a memorial service last night. Both took place on the trail. I decided the best thing I could do would be to be there to help. I ended up being the recipient of this gift.
The memorial service was wonderful, and his daughter's words about her father will be in my heart forever. With such passion she spoke of the parallel of the force of nature and the wonderful man her father was. She has such incredible strength. After the service it was so great to be there to share hugs with everyone, and talk about what a great person he was.
And then this morning...I woke up very early to meet Robert and Diana. We were going to tie flowers to the trail intersections to lead people to the site where he had been found...his final resting place. We headed out in the dark with arm-loads of stuff. We tied flowers to trees and fences so that any and all could find there way. Robert took me all the way to the site before I headed back. I found that I could hardly stand there amongst the debris. It was a harder location to be at than I thought it would be. I, then, ran back quickly to help greet people, tell them where to go on the trail, and say a few words before we headed off. I had been so composed up until that point, but got a bit choked up as I spoke, and said:
Before we depart on the Memorial Run, I would like to say a few words. I am not here as one of his closest friends. I knew him only by the brief hug, hello, and quick update on Saturday mornings we would exchange as we passed each other either at our cars or on the trail. As we run today, let us remember a man who leaves a legacy to strive for: honor, grace, dedication, care, and kindness. And may the canopy of trees that line the trail of the Greenbelt emit his spirit forever.
I described the trail and off we went. It was just amazing...his family, co-workers, fellow runners, and even people who hardly knew him came to join. We ran, we walked, we stumbled, and we remembered.
I arrived at the fence to turn in to where he was resting and I stopped. I couldn't go back in there. I waited with Mike for people to come out and we helped them turn back. Mike and I ran and caught up...it had been over a year since we had run together.
When we got back I spent time with each and every person I knew and didn't know very well. It was so strange... so many people came up to me to thank me for helping. They told me how much this short walk meant to them, and words I will never forget are those spoken by his daughter. She said, "Thank you. What you did was so important for us all."
What I realized was that all of this was so important to me, as well. I was able to offer some help and healing to my family. I was able to be there when I was needed, and not just when it was good for me. For this I must thank our lost friend...his legacy I will keep close to my heart.
If only we can all strive to have the things said about us that were said about him...I know I will. I will strive to have the smile on my face read kindness. I will strive to include everyone, so that all can feel like they are my friends and that I am not just part of closed circle. And I will move forward with determination to reach my goals!!