Thursday, May 29, 2008

Victory Lap, Part I

I shouldn't be here. And while I've known that in my gut for now more than four years, I can't help but think I'm at the tail end of a breakup with the city of Washington, DC that would make good fodder for someone ridiculous like Dr. Phil.

My extended exit from the District is, of course, the moving company's fault. After frantically preparing for the big day and running all over the city saying my goodbyes to friends over too many bottles of wine, I've been sitting here for no less than three days--all of my belongings sealed in boxes, all of my furniture dismantled, all of my clothes packed away--waiting for them to show up, taunted by phone calls that keep delaying my plans.

I've never had an uneventful or easy move in all my many transient years, so I although I'm genuinely annoyed and ridiculously exhausted, I'm trying to keep my (relative) sanity intact. In the interest of full disclosure, however, I'll confess that around midnight last night I resorted to eating the last of the Ben & Jerry's in my freezer with my plastic coffee scoop, because all of my silverware is in a box...somewhere. Did I mention that I've essentially been wearing the same clothes since Sunday?

So today, Day Two of Erin's Not-So-Great-Escape from Washington, it became apparent that the big truck wasn't going to make it by my building's 6 p.m. deadline for using the freight elevator. I screamed at Tom the Moving Guy on the phone (who now picks up his line by saying, "Hi Erin..." as if we've somehow become friends through this ordeal) and then did what any self-respecting recreational endurance athlete would do: I ripped through my carefully packed car to locate my running shoes, a pair of shorts, dri-fit top, and hat so I could take one last lap through the Nation's Capital. After all, my training schedule very clearly stated "6 Miles -- Easy" today, and who am I to ignore a schedule if I don't absolutely have to?

Off I went, on a route that had become a favorite of mine over the past few years in the early mornings, before the tourist walk 3-to-8 abreast, the middle school field trips overwhelm the mall, the bike commuters ride on the sidewalk, and the cab drivers insist on nearly killing pedestrians at every intersection they choose to make a right turn on red. I thought it might evoke some nostalgia for my time here, perhaps some reflection on how my life has changed through this experience, and a bit of thought about what I'll truly miss about being here. And it did, but I suppose all of that is a posting for another time.

Not everybody has the opportunity to run past the White House, Capitol, Washington Monument, and Lincoln Memorial pretty much every day before most people wake up. To not appreciate that kind of scenery and symbolism in my backyard would be ignorant. But every time I was held up at a stoplight or inhaled bus fumes and cigarette smoke, a part of me started longing for the summer days that I'll spend in Pennsylvania with unlimited miles of country roads to myself and all the fresh air I can handle.

I turned right from 17th Street to run past the White House, where a large street hockey game was in full effect. I was startled out of my deep thoughts as one of the players skated right in front of me, stopping me dead in my tracks by holding his hockey stick in my way.

"Hey, can I ask you a question?" he said.

Maybe it was because the guy was, to be frank, pretty hot, or maybe it was because I was craving human interaction beyond Tom the Moving Guy after 48-hours of isolation in my barren apartment. But I stopped...

To be continued.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Pictures of You, Pictures of Me

I'm in the midst of packing up and moving out of DC, heading north of the Mason Dixon Line and eventually back "home" to New York. In the meantime, my life has turned into a bit of chaos, as well as my apartment. I don't specialize in disarray. I am partial to order. But, my capacity to adapt continues to be finely honed during this interesting period of balancing priorities.

The first things I packed up were my photos, pictures, and books. I feel like a home without photos of good times with loved ones is just bleak, so I am really looking forward to the day that I land in a new home, so that my walls will once again display all of my favorite people, reminding me every day of the outstanding life I lead.

On the upside, packing is a great time to purge unnecessary clutter, so that when I unpack, I am truly starting anew. I hate owning superfluous stuff, so I'm challenging myself to give many belongings away instead of throwing them in a box to deal with later. So far, at least 11 big bags have gone to Good Will, with more to come.

I also took a little trip down memory lane. I have one keepsake box that sits on top of my dresser with only a small sampling of cards, letters, photos, and news clippings that have some sort of special meaning to me. The last time I went through this box was probably four years ago, when I moved to DC. I found the following "Wish for Leaders" scribbled on a piece of notebook paper. I don't know who it was from or who wrote it, but it looks like it was given to me as I was entering my senior year at Penn State. I must have found it pretty meaningful back then, and just as much so now, so I thought I'd share it.

A Wish for Leaders

I sincerely wish you will have the experience of thinking up a new idea, planning it, organizing it, and following it to completion and having it be magnificently successful. I also hope you'll go through the same process and have something "bomb out."

I wish you could know how it feels to run with all your heart and lose...horribly.

I wish that you could achieve some great good for mankind, but have nobody know about it except you.

I wish you could find something so worthwhile that you deem it worthy of investing your life.

I hope you become frustrated and challenged enough to begin to push back the very barriers of your own personal limitations.

I hope you make a stupid, unethical mistake and get caught red-handed and are big enough to say those magic words: I was wrong.

I hope you give so much of yourself that some days you wonder if it's worth it all.

I wish for you a magnificent obsession that will give you reason for living and purpose and direction in life.

I wish for you the worst kind of criticism for everything you do, because that makes you fight to achieve beyond what you normally would.

I wish for you the experience of leadership.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Moms Are the Best

I was walking down Columbus Avenue this morning, on my way to meet up with some friends for brunch when I heard a woman walking ahead of me talking on her cell phone.

"Happy Mother's day!" she said.

Although I had remembered to send my mom a nice gift late last week, in the midst of traveling (a lot) this weekend for a wedding (congratulations Sonia & Ben!!!!!), the holiday itself had slipped my mind until that moment. I felt ashamed--not because my mother would care that I hadn't yet called--but because there's nobody on earth who deserves recognition more than she does.

I suspect I'm not the only one who feels that way about her mom. Moms, quite simply, are amazing human beings, for all the reasons that have been articulated many times before--Thomas Friedman, for example, does his mother much justice on the pages of the New York Times today.

Now that most of my closest friends have becomes moms themselves, I have an entirely new appreciation for the role and I absolutely swell with pride because of the women they've become in motherhood. They are dedicated, driven, tireless, and loving. But, perhaps most impressively, each one of them has kept a healthy sense of humor, even on the most challenging days.

So, Happy Mother's all the moms in my life, most especially to Michele, who brought baby number 2 into the world on Friday and Jenn, who is welcoming baby number 3 as I type. Congratulations and cheers!

Monday, May 5, 2008

'...the Pride of Her Friends.'

In the self-created chaos of the past few months, there have been few moments that I've stopped to simply enjoy. I had missed that feeling -- those rare snippets in time when you don't care what's coming next and you've already forgotten what was bothering you 10 minutes ago.

As I entered the old, familiar lobby of that white colonial building on the west side of the Penn State campus on Friday, it was apparent that I was in for a weekend of happiness in its purest form. It's as if my group of closest friends have this magical power to calm, heal, and rejuvenate each other, without ever necessarily knowing their effect.

We descended on campus for a celebration of the 100th anniversary of Lion's Paw -- the organization I count myself eternally lucky to be part of, but never really sure how or why it happened, even 11 years after the fact. What I do know is that it has afforded me a group of people who quite simply are my family. Some of us grew up together, others watched us grow up, and now we find ourselves old enough to see an entirely new generation embarking on the paths we helped to pave. And for 100 years, the tradition continues.
Everybody (hopefully) has those people in their lives. The kind who can melt distance and time in an instant, because no matter what else is happening or has happened since you last talked, you come from the same roots. There is always respect and appreciation for where you're coming from and a common bond that has only gotten stronger as the years go on.

We were brought up on an old-fashioned diet of work hard, play hard. Together, we were taught to have the courage to take initiative when we see a not wait to be asked, to not expect payoff for doing so. We found that honest discussion among the most diverse of us led to the ability to reason together, and in turn brought out the best in all of us.

Those aren't bad values to leave college with and perhaps we didn't even realize that they were being ingrained at the time. But I don't buy the part about never receiving payoff. I left Penn State with so much more than a degree. I left with a treasure trove of friends who I am beyond grateful for every day of my life, who established my self confidence so long ago, and continue to feed my dreams today. They listen to my plans and goals and they ask how they can help make them reality. And beyond all of this, these are the people who draw out my laughter, who know better than anybody how to have a good time. Again, I ask how I got so lucky?

Here's to 100 more years, my friends...M.I.E.R.