Sunday, August 23, 2015

Ironman Recap

We've had a busy week driving home and getting started with a new school year. It's been a bit crazy (for instance, I got rear-ended while stopped at a red light Friday...oy vey!), but I want to recap the Ironman experience before I forget all the details.

First of all, Mont Tremblant knows how to put on an Ironman. Let this be a hint for Madison, Wisconsin, and other Ironman need to open the weekend with a live rock concert and fireworks. Mont Tremblant did. And it was amazing.

Second, the people of Mont Tremblant truly understand customer service. We were so impressed. Yes, it's a resort village and must have good customer service to keep drawing the crowds, but almost everyone we interacted with, from housekeeping in the hotel to servers at restaurants to the falconer who took us on a hike, was warm, kind, helpful, and friendly. This speaks well not only of the workers but of their management. Thank you, Mont Tremblant and Canada, for making our trip so pleasant!

Third, almost everyone in Mont Tremblant spoke English, even though French is the official language. What a gift to a whole province that most of its people are bilingual! Culturally and practically, this makes Quebec accessible and fun to visit for we mono-lingual Americans. After a while, we started making up a patois of French and English phrases just for fun, but I really, truly wish I spoke French now.

Fourth, we thoroughly enjoyed spending this time with George's sister, Angela, and her husband, Mike. Spending time with them is easy and relaxing and comfortable. They clearly love Nick and Jack, and they understand and appreciate Jack's quirks. How I wish we all lived closer together. Every time I make toast du mort*, I'll think of them and giggle!

Fifth, people who do Ironman races are both crazy and amazing. Athletes included a pair of identical twins, several married couples, a blind woman, a 74-year-old man, several people with lower-body paralysis (imagine doing an entire 140.6 miles using only your arms for propulsion!), a woman who had lost over 100 pounds, and the list goes on. We watched athletes cross the finish missing swaths of skin to road rash from bike wrecks, and a guy with his arm in a sling finished the race. I'm still trying to figure out how he did the swim.

[To see a 12-minute, professional video of the race, click HERE.]

Sixth, Ironman events offer extreme displays of sportsmanship. Racers help each other along the way with words of encouragement, a spare salt tablet, a CO2 cartridges to fill flat tires. Many people who finish earlier in the day come back near midnight to cheer on the last people to cross the line. We stayed up and witnessed an amazing sight. Mike Reilly, known as the Voice of Ironman, called out the final finisher's name and said, "You are an Ironman!" as he'd done for every other finisher that day.

Then, Reilly got word that another runner was just a few minutes out, and even though it was past the deadline for officially finishing, Reilly asked everyone wait for that athlete. A group of about twenty spectators joined the athlete for his last quarter mile and ran him across the finish line while Mike shouted words of encouragement. Mike congratulated him and got the entire crowd to shout, "You are an Ironman!"

So what if it wasn't an official finish? That man went 140.6 miles in one day, swim-bike-run. Of course he's an Ironman. And Mike Reilly was as enthusiastic and excited for him as he'd been for the first place winner of the whole race.

That's what Ironman is about: gutting it out and doing your best. Out of nine attempts at Ironman races, George didn't finish three. But he always came back and tried again. As crazy as all these athletes are, I've got nothing but respect for them, taking on such a huge challenge, pushing themselves as hard as they can.

At the T2 area, while retrieving George's bike, I saw an athlete in a wheelchair roll into the tent. He knew he'd not made the cut-off and wouldn't be allowed to start the run, but he was surrounded by people cheering him on. Now, I imagine his disappointment was acute in the moment, but seriously? All of us watching were inspired. How can we gripe about our petty challenges when this man, using just his arms for propulsion, just tried to do something most able-bodied individuals can't do?

He'll be back. And he'll finish. I just know it.

George's finish was 18 minutes faster than last year's finish in Madison, Wisconsin, at 13:57. He set a personal record for the swim...1:11, four minutes faster than ever before. Not bad for a 50-year-old, eh?

He's already talking about signing up to do Wisconsin again next year, possibly with several of his crazy friends. And I'll be there to cheer him on, carry his bike pump, and retrieve his sticky, sweaty bike. I'll gladly be his Iron Sherpa...again.

George Raihala, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!


Sunday, August 16, 2015

He Finished!

I'm wiped out, and George is starving, so this will be quick.

George finished in 13:57 after a painful marathon. He was unsteady on his feet but sensible (sort of), has showered, and now wants to eat. He told his sister that if he tries to register for Ironman Wisconsin next year, she has permission to taze him.

Typical post-race negativity. By next weekend, he'll think an IM next year is a great idea. IMs are like childbirth, I think, although I never had amnesia myself...I remember every pain my children put me through. But I did it twice. Voluntarily.

Ironman Mont Tremblant is George's sixth Ironman.

Nine tries.

Six finishes.

That's a special kind of crazy.

We're off to feed the beast. He's limping, but we're going.

I'll wrap up our Ironman weekend when we get home. Thanks for all the support and encouragement and prayers today!

For Narnia!!!

Another video, this time of the start of George's second lap of the marathon.

For Narnia!

George seemed in good spirits but says his knee is bothering him. He's steadily increased his pace on each of the run splits, though, so YAY!!!!

Mike had a trip to the medical tent following his bike and will not start the run. He's going to be fine, but muscle cramps ended his race this year.

T2 Video

If you want to see a video of George's transition from bike to run, a.k.a. T2, check out this link. He looks so much better than last year, and he's hauling the mail!

T2 Video

Tri to Understand

This is the second race-day post. Scroll down for the first race-day post!

Years ago in Madison, I saw a woman wearing a shirt that said, "Just Tri-ing to Understand." After attending my seventh start of an Ironman race, I feel like I'm starting to get it.


Just a bit.

It seems to make more sense at the finish line, though.

George gets body markings, including
his age (50) on his calf. This way, racers
know when people older than they are
pass them. ;-)

Nick and Angela, Iron Sherpas

The lake in early morning. 

Milling around before the start.

His nose is healing nicely from its
impact with the dock.

Mike, number 2007, looking happy!

Suited up with his Sherpa carrying the bike pump.
So glad I didn't have to carry that thing this year.
Thanks for the help, Nick!

Mike suited up and ready to swim. Sherpa Ang has his backpack.
She's earning her Sherpa gift!

The start was accompanied by fireworks and a canon blast, but the crowds made it impossible for us to see any of the waves leave the beach. We Sherpas went back to the hotel, picked up Jack, and ate a quick breakfast before moseying down to T1, where we saw both guys running from the lake to their bike gear.

Both were VERY happy with their swim times. George may have PRed his swim at 1:11, and Mike significantly improved his time over last year with a 1:33 swim!

It's fascinating to watch athletes in T1. Some have huge smiles on their faces, and others look for all the world like they're thinking, "Thank God I didn't drown!!!" or perhaps, "OMG, I have 138.2 miles left to go!!!!"

Most triathletes have favorite and least favorite events...the three sports are just so very different. George and Mike generally enjoy the swim. George says he zens out. They both prefer the bike (unless they get muscle cramps or bonk, in which case each has claimed to want to give their bike to anyone who will take it, or possibly throw it under a bus so they never have to ride it again).

The run is the weakest event for both guys, so the key is to keep their legs fresh enough to make the 26.2-mile. It's tempting to rage on the bike, thinking you're making up for a slow run, but that never works. All three times George didn't finish, he stopped half-way through the run with horrible cramps and dehydration. We don't want that happening today!

And now we wait. The bike splits are weird lengths. The first is 7km, and both men are over that mat with good times, but the second bike split is 73.5km, which means we won't get an update for quite a while.

In the meantime, we're relaxing. I should be back around 4:00-5:00 with a bike update and hopefully some pictures from the start of their marathons! If you want to track them for the eight different bike splits, go to Ironman Mont Tremblant Athlete Tracker and use 1965 for George and 2007 for Mike.

Ironman Begins

Ironman race day began at 4:00 AM after a night of very little sleep. We'll head off in about ten minutes to meet Ang and Mike and saunter down to the swim start...hopefully with a strong cup of coffee in hand.

Various weather reports are calling for a high of 80, 82, 86, and 88. Wow. That's quite a range. If you're the praying type, please pray for lower temps for all the racers. One-hundred-forty-point-six miles are brutal enough without adding heat to the mix.

George's race number is 1965, and Mike's is 2007. You can follow them at the Athlete Tracker on the Ironman website. Live coverage starts at 6:00 AM here, and finish coverage starts around 3:00 on the same page. That's roughly when George will be starting the marathon and a bit before the winner of the whole race will cross the finish line.

Race safe, men and women of Ironman Mont Tremblant 2015!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Trusty Steed and Pre-Race Preparations

George's favorite event of triathlon is definitely the bike. While I refer to his bike as his Precious (because it is), he prefers the term Trusty Steed.

He has an entire stable of steeds at home of all different kinds. You probably know that mountain bikes and racing bikes are different, but did you know that triathlon bikes and road-racing bikes (like those used in the Tour de France) are completely different? Yeah, well, I used to be blissfully ignorant of that fact, too, but don't you dare confuse the two around a triathlete.

Tri bikes like George's Specialized Shiv have different geometry than road bikes. I have no idea what the difference is, mind you. I just know there is one.

The blue band on George's wrist identifies him as a race participant.
It gets him into the transition areas and bike area, where I am
not allowed to go.

George spent a chunk of this morning readying his Trusty Steed for the tires, fresh lube, and race number stickers added. This afternoon, he took his bike to the bike corral, where it will stay overnight with about 2,500 other bikes. When the bike area is full, there will be millions of dollars worth of bikes there. Needless to say, security is important here.

On race day, after all the racers have gone through T2 and are sweatily running the marathon, I will be able to pick up George's bike because I have a little slip of paper that says I can. (Some races also require picture ID so only the authorized person named by the athlete before the race picks it up.) Otherwise, the racer must retrieve his/her own bike. Volunteers make sure the race number on the bike matches the race number on the rider.

That's the advantage of having an IronMate or IronSherpa to help on race day. We schlep a bunch of stuff around.

The photo can't do justice to the sheer size of this area or the number
of bikes it will house.

T1 is the transition area for swim to bike, and T2 is the transition from bike to run. Here at Mont Tremblant, I'm pretty sure these areas are in giant tents. Both areas are full of bags with race numbers on them, organized in numerical order to help everyone find what they need during the race. Everything a racer needs for the bike ride will be at T1, and everything he or she will need for the run will be at T2. All this gets organized and dropped off the day before the race.

Consider that there are roughly 2,500 racers; you can imagine what a logistical challenge all this gear represents. Yet Ironman has it down to a science, and there are hundreds of volunteers making sure it all gets done correctly.

On race day, if you track athletes online or using a free phone app, you will follow them as their electronic racing chip crosses various mats around the course. You'll see when they leave the water and enter T1, how long they stay in T1, a variety of bike split times, when they finish the bike and enter T2, and various splits for the marathon.

This tracking makes it pretty easy to estimate when your racer will be in one of the transition areas (and thus close enough to hear you cheering them on) and when they will finish the whole long as the technology works properly. Sometimes, there are delays in posting various times, but generally it's a pretty slick system.

George's Trusty Steed is racked and ready to roll. His feet are up and he's in sloth mode.

Until tomorrow morning, when his swim wave starts around 6:50 AM.

Then, he's stay in constant motion for 140.6 miles.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's updates!

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Weekend of Ironman Mont Tremblant Begins!

After spending a relaxing and fun week at a chalet near Mont Tremblant with George's sister Angela and her husband Mike, we've decamped to Mont Tremblant proper for the race on Sunday.

Before I share about the race, I'd like to give a shout-out to the excellent customer service at Mont Tremblant Activities Center.  We scheduled an amazing Apprentice Falconry adventure through them, and it's by far been the most remarkable experience of our trip to Quebec.

George, Nick, and I went on a private, guided hike through the woods with professional falconer Lucy and a Harris hawk named Phoenix. We learned so much about falconry, bird anatomy, and hunting habits, but best of all, we each were able to have Phoenix land on our gloved hand repeatedly throughout the hike.

Lucy and Phoenix

To be up-close and personal with a bird of prey--one trained and habituated to human contact*--was an experience I can't even begin to describe. So I'll share a link to the best video of the outing so you can see some of the awesomeness.

Phoenix flying over the bridge

And Now...Ironman

A little background for those unfamiliar with Ironman races.... Ironman was started on Oahu in the late '70s out of an argument over which athletes were most fit: swimmers, bikers, or runners. This debate quickly morphed into a race combining all three events over long distances; whoever could do all three the best would be called the Ironman. Now, there are Ironman races all over the world, but the annual world championship race is still held in Hawaii, where it all began.

An Ironman race begins with a 2.4-mile swim followed by a 112-mile bike ride followed by a 26.2 mile run, for a total of 140.6 miles. To finish, an athlete must complete all three events in under 17 hours.

Yes. It's crazy.

This year will be George's ninth attempt at an Ironman. He's completed five, with his best time in 2009 of 12:35 at Ironman Wisconsin. Mike, George's brother-in-law, finished his first Ironman in 2013. Both are here in Mont Tremblant to race again.

Yes. They are crazy.

Registration opens on the Thursday before the Sunday race, so yesterday, George and Mike registered. Of course, they had signed up and paid to reserve their spots in August 2014, just after last year's race at Mont Tremblant finished. There are thousands of people pre-registered for each Ironman race.

Yes. That's a lot of crazy people.

Today, we checked out the race site, walked to the swim start, and took in the Birds of Prey show at the top of the mountain. (We highly recommend it if you are ever at Mont Tremblant.) Tomorrow, George and Mike will spend the bulk of their day in their hotel rooms with their feet up, resting in what George calls "sloth mode." Angela, Nick, Jack, and I will wander the charming streets of Mont Tremblant shopping, sipping coffee and/or wine, and generally entertaining ourselves.

Don't worry. The boys won't be sipping wine. Jack only drinks apple juice from boxes, and Nick prefers Shirley Temples.

Sunday will begin very early for all of us, as Angela and I start our duties as race-day Iron Sherpas. We get to carry stuff (like morning clothes and bike pumps), to cheer our racers on during transitions between events (about the only time we get a chance to see them), and to schlep their nasty, sticky bikes (covered in 112 miles of sweat and sports drinks) back to the hotel rooms before the guys finish the marathon.

It's the only time we are allowed to touch the bikes. George's bike is his Precious. You might think I'm kidding, but I'm (almost) not.

For those of you who are interested, I'll be posting updates leading up to and all during the race, including links to the Athlete Tracker (where you can track individual athletes during the race and see how they are doing) and the live feed from the finish line. Through the live feed, you will be able to watch George and Mike as they cross the finish line and hear Mike Reilly, the official Ironman North America announcer, yell out their names.

Because that's what it's all about. Hearing Mike Reilly shout your name.

And yes. Every single bit of this is spectacularly crazy.

But aren't all the best people just a little crazy?

Yes, they are.

*You might remember when we rescued the injured barred owl. It clicked menacingly every time we got too close and was clearly a wild creature. Phoenix, the Harris hawk we handled, was far more social and accommodating!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

I'm Sorry, Quebec

George's dreams of Ironman glory have taken us to Mont Tremblant, Quebec, this year. On our first trip to Canada nine years ago, we went to Poets Cove resort on Pender Island, British Columbia. There, we enjoyed time on the water kayaking, whale watching, counting bald eagles, and being tailed by curious seals. We ate delicious food, had excellent service, road water taxis to various islands, and generally made ourselves at home.

We fell in love with Canada and felt like we could belong in Canada quite easily and happily, if only because as a nation they've embraced their dollar coin and call it the loonie. How delightful! In my lifetime, Americans never have accepted dollar coins, though I suspect it's because the dollars always have serious things on them like Sacagawea, eagles, or war-hero presidents.

Loons are ever so much more adorable.

When I told several Canadian friends that our return to their fair country would take us to Quebec, one shot back, "That's not Canada."

How right she was! I've felt quite wrong-footed since we arrived five days ago and feel the need to apologize to Quebec for my ignorance and awkwardness and general lack of cajones.

I'm sorry. I don't know the French word for cajones. Which leads to my first observation, which is painfully obvious, but oh so important:

Everyone in Quebec speaks French. This means all the signs are in French, the television shows are in French, and food labels are in French. French advertisements show up on my computer. I do not speak French, and for some weird reason, I now feel guilty about this gap in my education.

The guilt may come from my acute awareness that almost everyone we've encountered speaks not just French, but English as well, and generally very good English. Workers at McDonald's are bilingual. Bravo, Quebec's education system! The U.S. education system needs to step up. Seriously.

Out of pity, Quebec ought to print signs for us non-French speakers to wear around our necks, identifying us as easily-confused bumpkins. I know a few basic phrases in French...oui, merci, merci beaucoup, grazie, prego, de nadadonde esta el bano...wait, I think I'm getting confused.

Anyway, I want to say oui or merci, but every time I do, someone responds with a stream of French that leaves me feeling embarrassed and guilty, as if I've misrepresented myself. I now stick to English yes, thanks, thanks very much because those words signal my complete ignorance and cause the other person to respond in lovely accented English. Whew.

What makes me feel even guiltier is that the people of Quebec really don't try to make you feel bad for not speaking French. I'm the one who's awkward about it, not them. They have been nothing but pleasant and accommodating.

I'm sorry, Quebec, that I don't speak French. Merci, y'all, for being so nice about it.

My second observation about Quebec is also painfully obvious: it's on the metric system. How big, really, is the 1.5kg chicken I bought? My pharmacist sister-in-law knew the conversion factor, but I didn't. I found myself moving quite slowly through the grocery store trying to do math in my head (never an easy thing) and reading labels in a language I don't understand.

I'm sorry, Quebec, that I slow down your people in the grocery store, especially when it's a busy Friday evening and all your people want to do is grab dinner and go home.

My third painfully obvious observation: driving in Quebec is different from driving in the United States. Of course, the signs are in French and speed limit signs are in kilometers, but I notice no connection between the signs and how fast people actually drive. In the U.S. the "real" speed limit is generally about five or ten miles-per-hour over what's posted (except in California, where it's more like 15-20 over), but in Quebec, I've been passed on winding, hilly two-lane country roads while doing at least ten kilometers over the limit.  Being passed would be fine, except some people are passing on curves with double-yellow lines. Maybe a double-yellow line means something different in Quebec than in the U.S., but this is kinda scary and I don't want to be responsible for lives lost.

I'm sorry, Quebec, that I don't drive faster and your people get so frustrated with me they must risk their lives to get around me.

My final observation about Quebec is that people here are braver and stronger than we Americans. We went hiking in Parc National du Mont-Tremblant on what was supposed to be a facile climb. In U.S. national parks, easy means small children and old people wielding canes can navigate the trail without dying. Clearly, in Quebec, facile means something completely different. We were huffing and puffing up steep grades and decided that our mothers could never, ever do even a facile hike in Quebec. They have bad knees, and those down-hill grades are a bear.

Also, the descriptions of your hikes in the cool Parc National phone app scare me a little. Consider this one:

A sporty and vertiginous route and an activity that is part hike, part climb. You will safely climb along a rock face on Mont de la Vache Noire. Along the way, between points requiring some effort, you will have a chance to appreciate the singular hilly landscapes and the aerial view of the bends in Riviere du Diable at the bottom of the valley....

Difficulty: Easy
Length: 425 meters
Duration: 3 hours

Now, I know enough of the metric system to know that 425 meters is just about a quarter of a mile, which is to say not far. Any 425-meter hike that requires three hours to cover is CLEARLY NOT EASY by U.S. standards. The adjectives sporty and vertiginous do not inspire confidence in the facile label either. We Americans must be a bunch of pansies.

To be fair, the day after the Parc National hike, we braved the facile hikes at Domaine du St. Bernard and found them not only extremely easy but pleasantly fragrant and springy under foot. Perhaps this is because the park used to be run by Christian brothers as a training and recreational site, and clearly the brothers were gentle souls who appreciated contemplative, peaceful walks over sporty, vertiginous climbs.

Given two such radically different translations of facile, we suspect there is no government oversight for labeling trails in Quebec as facile or tres difficile, and such labels are as meaningless as the speed limits signs. 

I'm sorry, Quebec, that I don't have the cajones for hiking demonstrated by your young children and old people with canes. Vertiginous isn't an option for me these days.

In conclusion, I'm sorry I'm a bumbling American tourist, Quebec. You deserve better. Your people are charming and helpful, your country is beautiful, and your food delicious. So thank you for graciously hosting us.

Even if you're not really Canada.

Keep an eye out  updates on the Ironman race as it happens on Sunday. I will, as in past years for IM Moo, post links to track George and his brother-in-law Mike as they idiotically bravely tackle the 140.6-mile (that's 226.3km) course of Ironman Mont Tremblant.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

"Who Am I?": A Challenge

Who am I?

What a self-involved question!

But shouldn't we all ask it periodically, just to make sure we're not winging off in the wrong direction? We don't want to get so far away from our true selves that we can't find our way back, after all. While trying to find ourselves, we often get lost.

My friend Barbara, in her seventies, handles life so smoothly that I want to be her when I grow up. She really knows who she is, and it gives her both confidence and humility. She takes chances, pursues dreams, relishes people and activity and learning, and treats others as she wants to be treated. She has moral courage to stand up for others or herself, and she knows when to quit and when to try harder, doing both with grace and good humor. She can lead and she can follow, and she understands the right time for each.

Barbara claims she didn't come out of the womb this way..."old age" has taught her a few things. I wonder if she's just being nice, giving me hope. She also sees good in me and tells me so, which reminds me of the saying pat the back and the head swells. Can I trust my ready acceptance of her praise and encouragement? Not on your life. But I certainly want to be that person she describes as me. Yes, I do.

My hairdresser once confessed that she had been intimidated by me at first. "You're so much smarter than I am. But you're so nice I realized that was just my own hang-ups getting in the way and had nothing to do with you." I'm intimidating? Seriously? This does not jive with the self-portrait I've painted. Not one bit. I don't want people to feel intimidated by me. Ever.

Recently, another friend attributed a characteristic to me that left me scratching my head and wondering if she knew me at all. Of course, her comment (which wasn't exactly complimentary) then got me thinking that what other people see in us and what we see in ourselves often bear little resemblance to each other...and both perspectives might be spectacularly right or wrong.

My head is starting to hurt.

Who am I?

One thing I know, deep in my bones: I'm not entirely who I used to be. Most importantly, I'm not depressed, and that used to be a serious problem. Not being depressed means I'm not nearly as uptight or worried or self-conscious as I used to be. I am far more comfortable in my own skin and my own brain. I don't try so hard to get others to like me (though I still like to be liked, of course). I don't have to make others think I'm right because, in fact, I'm often wrong. And that's okay with me these days.

Back when I was depressed, I thought being wrong was pure Greek Tragedy, with its own Chorus singing YOU FAILED over and over again while I sacrificed myself on the altar of perfectionism. If that sounds like you, perhaps my experience will give you hope because time (or professional help) has benefitted me just as my friend claims age has benefitted her.

But still, who am I?

In this day and age of testing everything, perhaps we should turn to personality tests to answer these serious questions. Recently, I took the quickie online version of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and came up ENFJ, meaning my characteristics include extraversion, intuition, feeling, and judgment. Apparently only 2 percent of people fit this profile, which explains why sometimes I feel like I am, indeed, alone on an island, freakishly different. The test did help me feel like some recent decisions I've made at least make sense.

The ENFJ description largely fits me (or at least the "me" I want to be), although I would quibble with some details. For instance, according to another test, I'm actually more of an ambivert, incorporating characteristics of both extraverts and introverts, which feels much more accurate to me but isn't a choice on the Myers-Briggs.

Still, who am I?

Who are you?

Why are we here?

I. Have. No. Idea.

And that is okay. Taking personality tests and listening to what others think only get us so far in answering the question...and are not entirely reliable anyway. Prayer is good, if you're the praying type, and so is meditation. Sitting in silence, listening, slows us down and helps us take stock.

Unfortunately, we lie to ourselves pretty easily, don't we? Psychologists studying self-image find all kinds of ways we fool ourselves into thinking we're nicer, smarter, more generous than we really are. Even sociopaths think of themselves as perfectly lovely people. Geneticists say much of our personality is outside our control, a product of genetic programming, while other specialists say that environment controls our destiny. Don't you love "experts"? They lend such clarity to the issues.

Or not. 

When finding an answer to a question leads us into a rabbit warren of confusion, it's usually best to simply ask a different question. "Who am I?" is so self-involved and isolating, and it implies the answer is a single thing, finite and describable and static, like a trilobite in an Ordovician fossil bed or a butterfly pinned in a shadow box. But can we--should we--limit ourselves that way? Isn't it perhaps more accurate to say we are works-in-progress, doing and learning and growing and responding to life as best we can from our first feeble twitches in utero until our last breath?

Happiness research says that the harder you try to find happiness, the less happy you will be. Happiness is a side-effect--a very pleasant one--of doing good things and connecting with others in constructive, positive, and fulfilling ways. Finding ourselves might be much the same thing, a side-effect of living life in our own unique, special way...a way no one else can live it.

Now we're onto something. Life's dynamic, ever changing, and so are we. Let's make what we do and learn and how we grow and respond to life a reflection of our true self...the best self we want to see. Let's not get stuck but, like my friend Barbara, stay open and curious and thoughtful about the possibilities, looking for ways we can serve others to leave the world a better place than we entered it.

That seems a much better way to find ourselves than taking a test, don't you think?

For me, finding myself means sharing the love of Christ with the world, especially on transforming common days and through Stephen Ministry. It means taking care of my family, advocating for my children, and helping others whenever the opportunity arises. It means staying interested in lots of different subjects and reading lots of different books and trying to express my creativity through writing and paper crafts. It means being consciously grateful for life and all the good in it. It means praying for people, standing by them in the tough times, and loving them even when maybe they aren't acting very loveable.

Wow, that makes me sound pretty awesome! The honest truth, however, is that I fail at all those things regularly, pick myself back up, and keep trying. My failures have taught me to be as grace-filled and merciful toward others as I possibly can be, and I fail at that more often than I would like, too. If being my best is hard and confusing for me, with the many resources and privileges of my life, how much harder must it be for those with fewer resources or harder challenges?  

We are all in this together. I'll close by sharing advice from St Paul, who wrote, "So encourage and build each other up...." (1 Thess. 5:11). Barbara builds me up, and I hope I do the same for her. A simple act of encouragement to our fellow humans might help us see more clearly who we are and might help others figure out who they are. We can't figure out who we are by focusing on a self-involved question like "Who am I?" but by connecting with others in positive, unique ways, we might gain a little clarity.

Another friend, Linda, recently decided to volunteer at a local nursing home. She'd been a patient there twice in the past year or so, and she felt such a connection to the other patients that she wants to do something, anything really, to brighten their days. Not everyone feels comfortable with the sick (which is why so many people in nursing homes are lonely), but Linda does, and she's acting on that unique part of herself that grew out of her unique experience. What a great way to discover who you are!

Here's your challenge to answer your own "who am I?": Look around your life and ask yourself who has a need that you can uniquely meet. Perhaps it's as simple as sending a sick friend a handmade card or taking them flowers you grew in your garden or a loaf of banana bread you baked yourself. Perhaps it's teaching the new person at work how to operate the Keurig or modeling patience when waiting in line with surly folks. Maybe it's something bigger, like choosing a career of service (health care, ministry, teaching, the military, etc.) or volunteering at hospice or a children's hospital or a nursing home.  Maybe connecting with others requires you to learn something new or take a risk. Be open.

And see what happens. You just might find a bit of yourself along the way.