Saturday, December 30, 2017

Rhythm Divine

A beautiful Irish blessing I found painted on The John Lennon Wall in Prague, Czech Republic:
"May the best of your past be the worst of your future."<3
Since the onset of what has turned into a running career, this year has by far been my worst. In nine years of running, this is the first year where there's been no improvement, in fact there's been quite the regression. I was minutes off my PRs in every distance, most notably a near 20 minutes off at the masochistic disaster which was the Columbus Marathon this fall. Despite a sprained ankle that had me temporarily side-lined last spring and a respiratory bacterial infection after my travels in the summer, I’ve been healthy. It wasn’t due to a lack of effort, or any dramatic changes in my training from years past. So, what was the culprit behind the demise of my running success in 2017? The answer is easy: the “feel” was missing. What is the “feel,” and how do you get a hold of it? Well, it’s complicated, but I will try to explain it as best as I can based on what I’ve learned about “feel” this year.

Prior to leaving for my excursions this summer, I was overwhelmed with what I initially thought was travel anxiety. I had to force a smile when asked if I was excited for my trips, because on the inside I was dealing with what I can best describe as a deep feeling of emptiness of which I couldn't control despite my best efforts. Before my Eastern Europe trip early last June, battling these feelings I couldn't quite wrap my head around, I sat outside the departure gate in the CLE airport contemplating whether I should share my pending experiences or quietly go off the grid for a few weeks abroad. It wasn’t until I wandered through the international portion of the JFK airport, filled with more culture and diversity than I’ve ever been exposed to in my 34 years of living, that the “feel” began to be ignited and I knew this trip was bigger than me. Prior to my trip to Ireland at the end of last July, I experienced similar feelings of emptiness, and was nonsensically bawling in tears to my brother the night before I was to leave. Once again, this deep sensation followed me through to the airport; I had to suck in the tears as each person I encountered lit up as I told them I was heading to Ireland. It wasn’t until an extremely talkative, enthusiastic gentlemen sitting next to me on my connecting flight asked if I was going home when he snooped on my ticket stub and saw Dublin. It was a bit invasive and irritating, and no sooner than I sat down next to the overly gregarious guy did I wish to be sat somewhere else, but with his simple question, the “feel” inside me was ignited, and I once again knew with certainty that this trip was also bigger than me.

Despite these seemingly empty beginnings, my travels this summer were loaded with countless moments of “feel." One particularly special “feel” moment came while travelling through Eastern Europe during a stop we made in the beautiful, peaceful city of Bratislava in Slovakia, one of the many places in my travels of which I have ancestry. As we were being introduced to the city and its layout, I heard the song Rhythm Divine by Enrique Iglesias blasting from a restaurant. Why old-school, Spanish Enrique was playing in Eastern Europe I have no clue, but immediately, my mind flew backwards in time to 2000, when I was wandering through a music store in Madrid, Spain. It was a multi-floored music store, and in this store I purchased the CD to Enrique’s album. I listened to this CD on loop endlessly on my Discman on my spring break trip throughout Spain and France, a trip I managed to self-finance as a highly motivated, hard-working 17 year old in love with a world I had yet to see but was deeply driven to discover. There is little I remember from my trip to Spain and France, in fact my memory of climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower, one of the most iconic structures in the world, is completely gone, so much so that re-experiencing the breathtaking beauty atop the Tower last summer brought back nothing; sadly enough, it was as if I’d never been there before. How that is possible, I do not know, and to be completely honest, my amnesia is both confounding and terrifying. But in this particular moment, seventeen years later, listening to Enrique blare through the quaint Slovakian streets at 11 o’clock in the morning, my memory of my life changing Spain and France trip could not have been more vivid; the “feel,” although hard to put in words, immediately rushed backed to me. It was a moment of pure joy, where the years of my life seemed to collide, where time didn’t seem to exist, serving as proof that although many of the details have escaped my memory, my high school spring break trip to Spain and France profoundly defined who I was and who I am meant to be. In that moment, I knew with absolute certainty that I was exactly where God intended me to be. 

Somewhere near the "Rhythm Divine" in Slovakia this summer. <3

Life over the years has had me err on the side of stoic, so it is fair to say that all of this "feel" was quite the awakening. God has blessed me immensely leading me abroad, and although they began empty, the “feel” I gained in both Eastern Europe and Ireland were truly soul deep. It was the "feel" from Eastern Europe that led me to Ireland, and the "feel" from Ireland that has left me with a complex “feel” of what I can best describe as a cultural identity crisis: a “feel” of confusion but also of intense clarity, a "feel" of individualism but also of deep connection, a “feel” that is raw and authentic, a nakedness from all the layers and labels that conceal my true self. This “feel” has taught me a great deal, much of which is difficult to put into words, but I can say that from this “feel” my view of “home” has changed. Since graduating college back in 2005, finding a “home” is something I’ve struggled with. I’ve moved many times, and now that my family is growing and my siblings are starting families of their own, I often feel lost in my place. God has me on a separate journey that I don’t yet fully understand, but I’m trying to stay close to Him and do His will, no matter how challenging it may be or how often I erroneously veer away from His path. I now see “home” as more of a concept, rather than a physical place; I do not believe our permanent “home” is here on Earth. Until we get to our true “home,” I believe we need to rest on “feel” and trust in it. I believe it is through “feel” that God helps us to live through this life, and gives us hints as to what we will be going "home" to in the next: an eternal life filled with absolute peace, love, and joy. My pre-travel emptiness I could not fully understand at the time, but I'm thinking that perhaps this was God’s way of emptying me out, making me an empty vessel ready to be filled. Perhaps I needed to be emptied to truly let go and make the most of a journey already laid out for me. 

For all of us, I believe that the “feel” is different. It transcends our bodies, our minds, and even our hearts, but somehow unifies the three, enabling us to overcome insurmountable odds and find meaning in our lives. It is timeless, mystically connecting past, present, and future. It is that tickle inside that makes us giggle at inappropriate moments, bringing light to hard times. It is in the nostalgia that helps us hold on to all of those special people, places, and moments we encounter along our busy, tumultuous life journeys. It is that spark, that chemistry, deep in our soul when we fall in love with the right person or learn about that great opportunity. It is in the miraculous mystery of the Holy Eucharist at Mass. It is in the beauty of art, music, writing and other forms of expression, the things we do that we love. It is the courage we get to stand up for what’s right, regardless of the circumstances. It is the strength we need to push through physical and mental challenges, whatever they may be, despite all of our imperfections. It is what carries us to keep going even after we fall, to do the impossible. Looking back on my life and this year in particular, I firmly believe that this “feel” is something divine. A Rhythm Divine. I am faithful that it is the Holy Spirit residing in each and every one of us, like a caged bird singing, hoping to be let out, and I believe it is up to us to faithfully open the cage.

With all this said, I’m not sure we can control where the “feel” is directed. We have to be cautious that we don't let our own expectations, or those the world puts on us, silence the "feel," as more than often, it surprises us in exciting, unexpected ways and is usually not aligned with our plans. I can say with absolute certainty that the “feel” was not aligned with my running this year; it was redirected in other areas intended for me to grow in ways that running couldn’t fill for me. As for next year, I’m still trying to figure out the “feel,” but I know that it has once again been directed towards global travel. This particular “feel” began last January, on a blustery, cold Saturday night while sitting in the Cedar Lee movie theater in my all-time favorite CLE neighborhood watching the movie Lion (it is a beautiful, miraculous true story, be sure to see it if you haven’t already). While watching this movie, deep in my soul, I felt, “I gotta get to India.” Later that week, I learned about a program through the US State Department that gives teachers the opportunity to travel abroad and connect the world with their classrooms. Although you can only select regions of the world that meet your preference and you cannot choose your ultimate destination, something about the entire experience connected to me and sparked a drive in me; I felt deeply that no matter the odds, I needed to apply for this opportunity. And so I did, printing my completed application so I would not need to re-write my essays if I needed to re-apply the following year. And at the end of last June, after five months of waiting and many prayers for patience and acceptance of whatever was in God’s plan for me, I learned that I was accepted into the program. I was elated, overloaded with emotion, beyond humbled, and filled with utter disbelief. To be honest, it is easier for me to accept and rationalize rejection, and it can be more difficult to accept and understand my worthiness for gifts of such immense greatness. I was also nervous for the next steps, which included a 10 week online course for this fall, as I am highly involved in my school, but after earning a Master’s degree while teaching a few years back, I knew it was possible although extremely difficult. The "feel" was there ever so strong, but never the less, I was nervous. In addition to being a highly committed member of my continuously growing family, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to balance it all, and the potential for the embarrassment of failure was heavily dangling in my mind like an ongoing pendulum in motion.

It was most certainly an intensive, challenging 10 weeks, in more ways than I expected, and that pendulum heavily dangled in mind up until the submission of my final assignment. But the course was filled with “feel,” deeply connected to who I am as a person and as an educator, and so I was able to give it my best and successfully make it through. I learned a great deal from the rich, multitude of elements embedded into the course, growing both professionally and personally, and was able to infuse what I learned into my classroom and school, and have plans to do much more into the future. And at the course’s conclusion, plus a week and a day waiting period that felt like three and a half billion years, and after many prayers for patience and acceptance of whatever was in God’s plan for me, I received the news of a dream come true: I’M GOING TO INDIA! I can hardly contain my anticipation, and after a few nights of intermittent sleep due to overwhelming excitement and disbelief, I’m finally coming to terms with this incredible gift as a reality. My soul is on fire and I feel blessed beyond what my words will allow me to express; I can’t help but “feel” that this must be destiny!

A Christmas gift from a dear friend, colleague, and role model who has helped to put the whole world in my hands. I can't believe I'm making my way to this part of the globe! 

With all the excitement ahead for 2018, I’m not sure I’ll have enough “feel” to carry me through training for a marathon. After Columbus in October, I took a month off from running, and have spent the past month running every other day with long runs on the weekends. Even with time off, my knees are still feeling pretty sensitive as they have for some time now. There’s no real pain, but they definitely feel worn; I’m thinking it's patellar tendonitis. I am not planning to run a marathon this spring, but will likely run a few half marathons if my knees and all else are okay. Although I was thinking of running NYC next fall, I’m starting to feel unsure if I want to make the commitment after receiving the exciting news about India. I was also thinking of running an international marathon, but now that is definitely not happening in 2018. I will need to make a decision on NYC over the next week, and will be praying to make the decision aligned with whatever God’s will is for me, because who knows, I just may be destined to pull off a Shalane Flanagan (in my own, much slower/non-elite, right)! 

This has been quite the year, for better and for worse, but loaded with blessings and "feel" as part of a plan bigger than me. Coincidentally enough, in the midst of my travels this summer, my Mom dug up a report I completed on my ancestry back in 1997 when I was in the 8th grade; 20 years later, I visited every single country in that report! Even more coincidentally, I left out Croatia from my report, and that is the only country of origin that I didn’t make it to this summer. It is a very odd coincidence, but as Einstein said, coincidences are God’s way of remaining anonymous.  It is a very powerful “feel” of “home” travelling to countries of which you have ancestry, and I hope to make it to my last destination, Croatia, someday. There is so much I have yet to learn, and if anything became evident from my trips this summer, it is that my passion for adventure seeking goes deep into my genome; I must admit that I have some pretty bold, curious, courageous ancestors! My Croatian Great-Grandmother, widowed after my Great-Grandfather died in World War I, left the comfort of her home to bring my young Grandpa Pavicic to America, an unknown place where they didn’t speak the language or have any familiarity. My Irish-Canadian Grandpa Scully, who was raised on a farm and didn’t even have a completed high school education, came to America by train with his brother, earned his US citizenship by serving in the air force during World War II, and successfully built a great career in sales. Despite the uncertainty and the vast unknowns, they were committed to making a wonderful life for their children and all the generations to come. These are just two examples of why I am so proud of my DNA and "feel" a deep sense of responsibility to live my life to fullest, but I could go on, and my sentiments are confirmed by science! According to the book I’m currently reading called Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst written by the brilliant and witty Robert Sapolsky, who is a Stanford biologist and neurologist, 23% of Europeans and European Americans have a gene mutation linked to novelty seeking, extroversion, and impulsivity. After 35 year of adventures in living as no one else but me, and after all I’ve learned recently about my ancestors, I have to say that I “feel” 99.9% certain that I have inherited this mutation. <3

Life is GOOD; I'm going to try hard to let go, trust God's plan, let the "feel," aka the Rhythm Divine, take over, and we shall see what 2018 has in store!  I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas and Holiday season. I wish all a wonderful New Year filled with growth, surprises, newness, and excitement, and as the Irish say, may the best of your past be the worst of your future! :-)

<3 MP :-)
My 8th Grade Nations of Origin report uncovered this summer...
...completed 20 years before I'd make it to I studied!

Bangs and Pre-Braces. :-D Thank God for Trista Carter and Dr. Scotese! <3

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