Today was the Berkeley Half Marathon, but this is not a running post, I swear. This is a post about what happens when love and elation and pure physical joy combine on a bright and clear Fall day in the Bay Area.
I’ve thought often about leaving Berkeley. I did leave, actually, after college. For Boston. And after passing through four Boston suburbs in three years, I came back. I left again a few years later. For Southern California. Good gawd, don’t ever do that. I came back.
And lately I’ve been talking about leaving again. Cost of living here is astronomical. Self righteousness is, too. I’m used to being the weirdest in a place, not one of the most conservative. And I’d like to raise my boys without working 80 hours a week, which is what it would take at these prices. Note that housing costs five times the national average here. It’s crowded and expensive and the pace is relentless. That leaves me feeling agitated quite often.
But it’s sunny and warm almost all year. The population is highly educated, the air and water are clean, the food is phenomenal, we’ve built a large and wonderful community of friends here, and the number of museums within a 20 mile radius is staggering.
So we live here and raise our boys here. And I run here.
The half marathon today covered all my regular runs, offering magical moments of “hey, I haven’t been here since I was pregnant with Butterbean” and “this is where our soccer team plays” and “I lived there in college” and “there’s my favorite fire fighter!” The course was peopled, end to end, with wonderful neighbors and friends, all cheering for the 9,000+ runners who busted their butts today.
I don’t know that many people who watch races have any earthly idea how important each cheer, each clap, each cowbell is for runners. I felt like I was flying today because of all the community love. The best homemade signs: “This seems like a lot of work for a free banana!” and “Puppies at the finish line!”
You want to make someone’s day? Say “woo!” every once in a while as a race goes by your house. You want to feel adored? Run the Boston marathon. The whole town comes out to yell for strangers making one of the toughest 4-hour efforts of their lives. It’s beautiful thing to witness.
Even better? Today a dream came true for me. I’ve always wanted to be doing something challenging and to have my boys holler “way to go, Mommy!”
For the first time in nine years, I heard “Yay, Mommy!” And I heard some version of it four times. Their dad came over early in the morning so the whole family could drive me to the start line. And then he drove our sons to four different places on the course so they could holler for me. And high-five me. And let me choke back sobs of joy while I silently insisted to myself that I channel that energy rather than wasting it on electrolyte-depleting tears.
Oooh, how I wanted to sob. I was doing my best and my kids got to see it and congratulate me loudly? Shut the front door. That’s heaven right there.
Today I ran along the water, basking in the stately presence of the Golden Gate Bridge, who was peeking out above Karl the Fog to wink at us. “It’s always warmer over there, amirite?” the bridge crowed. Today I beamed as members of Peanut’s soccer team and Butter’s preschool yelled for me and chased me as far as they could. Today I offered to help runners who had obviously been held back by injuries on the course. because love trumps all else in a community race. Today I ran without music or mental chatter because I was surrounded by a thick stream of runners and supporters, all of whom made me see the streets in a new way: communal, engaged, human.
Today felt like being wrapped in a warm blanket of sunshine with a fresh bowl of freshly picked strawberries and blueberries that I got to share with family and friends. It was a brilliant party. And I loved every minute of it. Many of my moments of joy are cut short: by reality, by the pain of others, by life. Today I had two full hours of uninterrupted joy. and the kids didn’t start fighting for at least 10 minutes after I finished, so let’s call it 130 minutes.
Thank you Berkeley, co-parent, and friends. You’re the best.
[This isn’t a post about running, but I must say for my running peeps that I finished between my goal time and my secret no-way goal time. Icing!]