Don’t Write Yourself Off

Posted 09.21.2015

Last week I had a vivid reminder of why, when a health crisis or some other kind of major life setback occurs, you should never write yourself off.

As I shared here last year, I was diagnosed with MS in the summer of 2009. My primary form of exercise, head clearing and general sanity maintenance before MS was distance running. In the months surrounding my diagnosis, I went from running six or seven miles at a time to barely being able to walk around the block. Thanks to the therapeutic benefits of yoga and other routines I’ve adopted over the past five years, I’m in much better shape now and able to live a very active life. The distance running, though, has pretty much been in the rear view mirror. I’ll run a couple of miles once a week or so but have found that I’m generally better off by spending most of my physical time on the yoga.

Last Wednesday, I found myself in Boston on a beautiful late summer morning with nothing scheduled until noon. Boston is a special place for me and a lot of other people. Two of the most fun years of my life were at the Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge across the Charles River from Boston. I was there from 1985 through 1987 and was a super serious runner back then. Along with some good friends and faculty members, I regularly took 10 to 20 mile runs on the path along the Charles. Those runs are among the most vivid memories I have of my time at Harvard.

sep21-bWhen I woke up last Wednesday, I stretched for ten minutes in my hotel room and, on the spur of the moment, decided to go outside and jog over to the Charles about four blocks away. I ran through the Public Gardens by the Swan Boats and a few minutes later was on the Esplanade by the River. I turned left down the path and headed toward the bridge that crosses over to Cambridge and Harvard Square. I had no intention or even a thought of running that far. I knew the bridge was about five miles away and I was just out to get some fresh air – out and back in around 20 minutes.

Twenty minutes later, I was still running toward Cambridge. Memories and emotions came flooding in. It was such a beautiful morning. My body felt great. I was running in one of my favorite places in the world on a route that I once was sure I would never run again. I cannot fully describe how grateful I felt to be there doing that.

As I rounded the bend in the river that offers the first view of Harvard, I stopped to take the picture that leads this post. Then I kept running. A little while later I was walking over the bridge to John F. Kennedy Street and past the Kennedy School. I stopped in a Peet’s Coffee for a yogurt, tea and a bottle of water. Then I walked further up the street and had my breakfast on a little table on the plaza by Out of Town News and the Harvard Square T stop. When I finished eating, I got on the T and rode back in the direction of my hotel to get ready for the rest of the day.

It was a simple but beautiful little thing that I got to do last Wednesday. And it was a great reminder of a couple of lessons I’ve learned and relearned since the summer of 2009. The first is to be present. I’m so grateful I had the presence of mind to go for that run last Wednesday. It may sound silly, but it was one of the highlights of my recent life. The second lesson is don’t ever write yourself off. When setbacks occur, whatever is happening can feel like the “new normal.” If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past six years, it’s that “normal” constantly changes. It’s pointless to try to predict what’s next. You literally have no idea. In the depths of my early struggles with MS, my wife, Diane, gave me a small paperweight with a quote from Winston Churchill. It says, “When you’re going through hell, keep going.” I am so grateful that I kept going – both six years ago and last Wednesday morning.

Don’t write yourself off.