He was always a runner. I remember the way the living room would shake as he dribbled that mostly-deflated plastic ball up and down its center, aiming at invisible targets above the door frame. Kendall would play basketball and tag in the cul-de-sac with the neighborhood boys, which, as they grew, turned into soccer teams and cross country meets. They’d load up on spaghetti the night before a long run, the team calling him “Kev” even though I’m still not quite sure why. And long after the season was over, when school was stressful or he’d been indoors too long, he’d lace up his shoes and choose to run up and down the steepest hills in the neighborhood.
I have never been a runner. On the first day of high school PE, the coach said, “You have the legs, you just don’t know how to use them.” As if I hadn’t been, oh you know, using them EVERY DAY OF MY ENTIRE LIFE. While I was busy trying to catch some kind of sickness (Once I overachieved and got mono, but success because the doctor’s orders were literally ‘no physical activity.’) before the bi-annual 5Ks my family ran together, Kendall would win his division. It’s a good thing I loved my brother so much, because otherwise, I would have had a serious jealousy problem. Okay, maybe I did a little bit anyway.
I’ve spent most of my life trying to save onlookers from my (lack of) athletic ability. And in turn, I’ve spent a lot of time hiding from the shame that stems from it. As long as the attention was on someone else, I was thrilled to be the spectator cheering in the stands. When Kendall was running, I always had the satisfaction of being a fan of the winning team. But now, I don’t have anyone to cheer for.
The past few months, I’ve been angry. Angry that all of my gut reactions to cheer for him are still dead ends. Angry that I cannot just force someone else to take up his place. Angry about how quiet it is to sit in the stands and realize I’m still alone. Angry about feeling unseen. Angry about the concept of long-suffering. Angry about saying even more goodbyes. Angry that I can’t remember him like I used to. Angry about feeling like my family can’t catch a break and the hurt keeps coming, pounding, again and again.
So I did the thing I swore I’d never do. I started running. But this time, it wasn’t for my shame or the PE coach. It was for my brother. One clumsy, slow step at a time, I lost my breath in prayers that ached to learn why he loved it. I wanted to unveil the mystery of his enjoyment of running, but really, I just wanted to feel close to him again. I wished to take back all of the times he’d gone running alone and make sure we did it together. And as I prayed these shallow prayers, asking God to help me remember things I’ve forgotten and endure the next tenth of a mile, I wasn’t alone. The steps kept coming, pounding, again and again. Mile after mile, it didn’t matter whether I liked it or not, just that I did whatever I could to not stop.
I began to crave it–not the running, but the newness. For so long, the grief has felt so old and inescapable, and I cannot shake the fear that it will always feel this way. I grieve knowing that a brother-shaped void will be in every future memory, accomplishment and milestone. Nothing can happen that will be purely sweet without bitterness. But when I lace up the shoes I never thought I’d use, it’s the kind of sweet I never expected to taste again, like considering that when God says He makes all things new, He may actually mean all things. All of the time I’ve spent trying to hide it–the shame, the doubt, the fear, the grief–hasn’t prevented Him from tending to it. It doesn’t resolve or relieve my hurt, but for the first time, I’m noticing something beautiful sprout next to it, up from the ground I thought was fruitless. Beauty from ashes.
As I run, it’s nothing fancy and mostly still a struggle, but the pounding on the pavement remains the same:
I miss you. I love you. I miss you.
This weekend I ran the farthest I’ve ever run, a distance I cannot even believe is true. I completely feel like an imposter, but I did it. Seven miles.
And while I don’t think I’ve exactly nailed down why he loved running yet, I’ve been reminded of something he loved more, something I think I’d pushed aside:
He misses me too. He misses me too. He misses me too.
He loves me back. He loves me back. He loves me back.
Beauty from ashes.
I don’t know if running is something I’ll keep up or not, but I think I hear cheering coming from the stands. I’ve always hoped it was still there, I just never expected it to be for me.