Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Life is really just a collection of disjointed moments. They leave us as quickly as they arrive. Sometimes, those moments depart as fast as we can blink. Other moments seem to stretch into eternity. 

My son is without inhibitions. He has never understood embarrassment or shame. Because he has autism, he simply acts and reacts to the moments of this life in a manner that is both authentic and fearless. I have often admired the way he can so generously embrace each instant without the limitations of the world above and below and all around. 

The rest of us are here, tangled in this earth. It can be a hard place to live.

I went to the store this morning. I needed only a few things…a quick trip. So, I took Henry and Midori along. 

Both love the market. They love the rows of exotic fruits, the shiny fish laid out on icy slabs, the smell of bread as it is pulled from the caverns of the ovens. They love the way their shoes clack on the tile floors and they love the tiny carts for children, with the wheels spinning as they graze the concrete sidewalks. 

Recently, however, the market has become a minefield for Henry. Autism comes with heightened anxiety, and the most recent source of distress for our son is the empty bins in the bulk section of the store.

On some level, I understand his discomfort with emptiness: Emptiness is a mode of perception, a way of looking at experience. It adds nothing to and takes nothing away from the raw data of physical and mental events. It’s senselessness. It’s without a story, a place, a presence. Nothing.

It’s hard to understand the extent to which a vacant barrel that once held tiny grains of amaranth or brown rice can incite panic in my son. His distress is so extreme that my husband has simply refused to take Henry to the market. Henry will, upon seeing the emptiness, fling himself to the floor. He will kick and shriek, tears streaming down his face and his hands balled in angry fists. He will beg and implore anyone around him to fill the bin. Fill it with anything.

And so, this morning, I did everything I could do to distract Henry from the large oak barrels. I held his soft, small hands and guided him through the aisles. I talked to him and laughed with him and asked him about his plans for the day. I was no longer navigating the store, but the labyrinth of Henry’s fears. It would, of course, be easier to simply leave him at home with his father, but I understand that Henry has to be in the world, even if it is not fully in him.

And then, he tore away from me. He spotted a container that once held little beads of barley, and now contained nothing more than the fine dust of grain.

Immediately, Henry dissolved in tears. And then to rage. He was banging his hands on the floor, screaming, “It’s empty, Mom! It’s EMPTY!” 

I bent down gently, holding his head in my hands. “Yes. It is empty. I see that, too. It has to be empty, Henry, so that it might be filled again. That’s how it works.” 

His eyes met mine for an instant. He considered the idea that emptiness might not be futile and pointless. It might, in fact, be the center to which we all return. He wanted to find a way out of the moment. 

So did I. I sat there on the cold cement, with my son in terror and the world staring at me…baffled. In moments like this, with judgment all around, I come back to myself. I am reminded of how strong women are in order to do the work of raising children. I am reminded that love is a store full of strangers looking at you with absolute disdain as you cradle the fears of your boy because, in that moment, my only obligation is to him. I can endure the world if it means making meaning of emptiness. 

For Henry? The world doesn’t really exist at all. Emptiness is the great undifferentiated ground of being from which we all came to which someday we'll all return. It’s the space where we let go of our assumptions and our suffering, our views and our stories and all the things we suppose. And when you come right down to it, that's the emptiness that really counts.

Raising Henry has often meant erasing my own expectations and inhibitions. It has taught me how little I need of the world around me, how firmly planted I am in the hearts of my children. It has made me a stronger, more graceful woman. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Race Reports and Laments from Torturefest

Bike racing is such a heap of contradictions. You spend hours training as hard as possible, only to spend minutes racing and trying to conserve energy. You have to be controlling and detail oriented, but able to relax when it counts. You have to obsessively create the conditions needed for success, but learn to lose races without losing motivation.

Getting ready to race at Sea Otter
I’ve had a lot of mixed results so far this season: Two podiums, a nice surprise at the circuit race at Sea Otter, some solid group finishes; and then some total losses at Valley of the Sun and, this last weekend, at Tour of the Gila. 

On that latter point, I have never worked so hard for such a miserable result. Everything went wrong. I had a ton of cramping and narrowly missed time cuts after the second stage – and only because they increased the window from 115% to 130% - and then dropped my chain in the TT. I crashed out of the crit, but was nonetheless scored by a benevolent Chief Referee who simply placed me dead last and assessed me a gigantic time penalty. On the last day, faced with a horrific road race that climbed 100ft for every mile I could pedal, I managed to come in at the back with a small group of sprinters after making a series of tactical errors early in the race and burning every last match in the book way too soon.

Indeed, there are a whole lot of ways to lose a bike race. I managed to find every one in five days. 

In a particularly awful moment after the crit, when I was faced with the possibility of not finishing the race, I cracked. I sat in the back of an ambulance for a few minutes, obsessing about the situation and enormity of all the obstacles I had faced to get to this point where I might be done. I broke down in tears next to a sympathetic Danny Summerhill, partly from fatigue and frustration, but mostly because I couldn’t tolerate the idea of ending my race. I remember Michelle Mjoen from Primal-McDonald Audi trying to reassure me by saying, At least you don’t have to endure tomorrow. I wouldn’t be too heartbroken.

I thought about that for a bit, and of course, she was right. Pain in bike racing is inevitable. But pain isn’t really the same as suffering. Pain can be assuaged by simply quitting…but suffering resides on the side of something different, something longer and less tangible. 

Bike racing can be so hard, it’s heartbreaking. The will to hold on isn’t always enough. I spent days trading pulls with aerobically stronger riders, only to get dropped sooner or later…only to find myself sitting in when I knew I couldn’t hang on another second during a climb, hoping that the group would tire and level the playing field. 

Peter, Kim and I stretching out the legs before race day.
After all that, however, the best part of my week wasn’t finishing the final stage. I was glad I got to start, of course, and I made the most of the opportunity. I managed to sneak a few more minutes off the other sprinters in the race, and moved up a touch in the GC. I worked hard with the group to reel in a few early breaks, and managed to catch in after nearly getting shelled on the first set of climbs. But the best moment came when I rolled up to the start line, and was greeted by the other women with whom I get to race…all of them telling me how glad they were to have me there, still in it. They had watched me struggle unusually hard all week, and those who knew me well rallied my sprits at every turn. As a celebrated their successes, they were focused on consoling me. (Thanks, ladies. You really are amazing!)

I had a great time with our gracious hosts, Winn and Jim Taylor, too. They were more than accommodating, and spent hours at the sides of every race cheering for me and the other riders staying in their home. (They even staffed our feed zones on the second stage!) The guys from Durango and Philly were so much fun! Every night, Peter, Jack, Brody, Will, Tim and I had "family dinner" and recapped the day over good food and coffee.

I also had a lot of reminders about the message carried by my team. As Michelle and I worked our way to bridge the gap during the second stage, she looked over at me and asked if it was hard to race with Type 1. Her team has been active with the ADA CO Tour de Cure, and she talked a bit about her family and their experiences living with diabetes. After the Time Trial, a competitor came up to me and told me about her three siblings with Type 1, and how much she appreciated the inspiration of this organization. And, moments before the start of that awful crit, the lead moto came up to me and put his arm around me. Thank you. I mean, not you, personally, but your team…what you guys do. I’ve had diabetes for 47 years now.
I needed that. 

So, I drove 14 long hours home to make sure I walked through the door in time to take my kids out to breakfast before sending them to school. I took a day to recover, and then went for a nice easy roll this morning. I have another race tomorrow. I expect that it will be better.