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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I Ran So Far Away and Charity Begins at Home

I went running this weekend.  To Buckingham Palace. If you've visited us, I suspect you're saying, "Uh huh. Then where?"  It is admittedly not far, but felt so good to move like that.  Good for the soul.  Also soles.  And solo!  Hooray, all.

The Mister and I ran a marathon together when we were newlyweds.  We ran what's called the "World's Friendliest Marathon" and that was hugely helpful. To be extra sure I'd finish, I told everyone I knew I was doing it.  We loved it.  It was a fantastic shared experience and became our shorthand in delivery rooms years later ("What mile are you on?").  Even though I've bounced between gyms, classes, various workouts, and nothing at all, it has been a long time since I've run.  And just not after a wayward toddler.

I went running because I could and because what started as my 40th birthday knocking softly has turned into a more incessant pound. And have you seen how amazing Elle Macphearson looks at 48? Here I should mention that every single one of my girlfriends and relatives who has already hit that milestone has never looked better.  Tough acts to follow and inspiration from all corners.  Fresh air in my lungs, sun on my face, legs going, mind free, it was great fun.

At first I had to train myself to ignore calls of "Mum!" in the park knowing they weren't for me, to not fret over whether every little errant dog was missing from a worried owner, and steel my eyes ahead so as not to be helpful to others. I wasn't planning the children's liturgy for Mass on Sunday, serving as the homework helpline, my family's ambassador or crossing guard. I fear that sounds terribly nasty and selfish and much worse, ungrateful of my many blessings.  But boy it felt good.  No one saw me.  No one talked to me and that was fine.  It was super.  I was in a cone of silence and invisible to the world.

On the way, I saw a Number 9 bus to Trafalgar Square which is always a treat.  It is one of the routes that still uses the very old style and has become a family favorite. Alone in front of the palace for the first time, I felt myself smiling at my good fortune. Buckingham Palace is a matter of steps from my door!  There's Big Ben popping up over the trees! Over there!  The London Eye!  The guardsmen in their winter greys (even if they do spook me a bit looking so Wizard of Oz-ish)! Look! A newly married couple taking lots of great photos! This is great!

Next I climbed the steps to the Victoria Memorial and was struck by the piece that faces the palace. I've since learned it is called both Charity and Motherhood. (sigh.) Although it is missing a member of my brood to be complete, it really speaks to me. Baby at the breast, one tucked under her free arm, another snuggled in the folds of her skirt.  No wonder her eyes are a bit downcast.  She's dozing. Or trying to catch a glimpse of the Times. (Especially on the weekends when it comes with no fewer than 3 must-read magazines!)  She looks peaceful, content, encircling babes in her arms.  Her heart and mind are probably as full.  She personifies what people often say when they pass me: "Your hands are full" to which even the smalls now join me in responding cheerfully, "happily so!"

On the way back through lovely streets and then the park, I was near tears admiring the nooks and crannies (my favorite thing about London) and feeling a bit overwhelmed by how much more we have to do.  Just in London.  And all over Europe.  Just how impossible it will be to take it all in even if we are here for a lifetime. And devoted ourselves to the study of a tiny corner of the city's beautiful buildings and charming streets.  Even before we'd really dug into restaurants, shows and museums.  A lovely problem to have to be sure.  A blessing of riches indeed.

I was busy thinking of my little people the whole time, and not just in getting moony over the statue. Turning toward home, I was pumping my arms while planning to have a big surprise art afternoon this week and "Alphabet Month" for February.  The running freed me of countless nos and made me think more creatively about our time together and enjoying it all.  As I neared the park, I was only walking and caught the eye of 4 tourists in search of their hotel.  After my time alone, I was grateful to chat with them and tickled to know my new city well enough to set them on their way.

I was tempted to tell them to drag their suitcases a bit further and go see the palace.  They could witness Charity before they'd unpacked.  Unless she'd dashed off for a quick run.

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