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In July I attended my high school reunion. I had a great time and enjoyed reconnecting with friends. Some of them I see often even now and some I had not seen since high school. We danced, drank, ate, stayed up way too late, and basically behaved like the kids we still are somewhere in our own minds. A good time all the way around and I’ll go to the next one as well- gladly.

A couple of days later Facebook flooded the cyber-verse with lots of happy, smiling pictures of the event. Nice shots, good memories. Then the comments caught my eye. More than one person wrote something to the effect of, “Ahhh, look at you! So great to be able to celebrate the best days of your life.”

The best days of my life?

The best days of my life weren’t in high school, or even in college. And they aren’t past. I didn’t peak at seventeen. Sure, I had some amazing times. Beautiful pain, fierce joy, abdomen aching laughter, life-shaping lessons, all those formative, profoundly necessary moments. I’ll carry these precious memories with me for the rest of my life, diamonds that shimmer so long as I do. They stand alongside other amazing times: when I fell in love, carried, bore, and raised my children, the stories I’ve brought into the world, and the friends who have carried me through days that encompass the glorious and the downcast.

Even as I gaze fondly at the past, I appreciate my present and I welcome the future. All the things I have yet to learn, embraces to give, and songs I haven’t heard yet. They’re all waiting for me, like books on a library shelf.

This song encapsulates something of what I’m trying to say. It was recommended by an old friend of mine when he found out I was attending the reunion. The group is new to me (the song is from 2015, so not too ancient). New voices for me, but the lyrics bring up memories from my past. The best of both worlds. Past and future… never forgetting, but still eager for the new moments.

My friend Kimberly gave me a magnet I keep on my frig where I see it every day. It reads, “Isn’t wonderful to know that some of the best days of your life haven’t happened yet?”

Yes, yes it is. Here’s to the future… and the past.

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This post was written by Erika Gardner. She’s a native Californian, lifelong lover of fantastical adventures, and a dedicated Whovian. If you enjoyed it, please sign up to receive updates on www.erikagardner.com   Or you can follow Erika on Twitter @Erika_Gardner, “Like” her Facebook page Erika Gardner- Writer and Storyteller.Or check out her contributions to the BBB Blog. Erika’s debut novel, The Dragon in The Garden can be found at Tirgearr Publishing.

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Okay, so this is the first time I have repeated groups.  I have featured Yes before on a Musical Monday blog (see my blog on Yes’ “We Can Fly”- https://erikagardner.com/2012/03/05/musical-mondays-will-the-real-yes-fan-please-stand-up/), but work with me, people, it was necessary.

It was necessary because this last weekend, I attended my 25th high school reunion.  It was a genuinely wonderful night; full of people who I love and am proud to know.  To speak in a veritable cliché  of contradictions: we are all so different, and yet, we haven’t changed a bit.  I’d know these guys/gals anywhere, but they are so much more than the kids of yesteryear.

Life is change.  We collect names and identities throughout our lifetime.  I began as Erika, a daughter.  Then I became Erika, a sister, a runner, a student, a friend and a girlfriend.  Later I was Erika a graduate, salutarian, an intern, a SWF, a YUPpie, a bride and a wife.  We were DINK’s, lovers, partners and, suddenly, parents.  There are more names and identities that I hope and dream to have in the future:  mother-of-the-groom/bride, author, best selling author, and grandma.

Yet, the one constant is change.  It is always change.  We keep moving forward, we keep evolving, we grow.

I love this song.  It is far and away my favorite Yes song, though, really, it is a Trevor Rabin song, like the entire 90125 album. (So named for the record’s catalog number in the Atlantic records catalog.  Point of interest– U2’s Under a Blood Red Sky- Live is catalog # 90127.)

I think when the meristem of our souls is frozen over, when we decide to no longer morph and grow, then we begin to truly die.

Having posted this before, it should surprise no one that my primary problem with conservatism is this… as always, it is in the words…

con·serv·a·tism

[kuhn-sur-vuh-tiz-uhm]

noun

1.

the disposition to preserve or restore what is established and traditional and to limit change.
2.

the principles and practices of political conservatives.
Versus the definition of liberalism…

lib·er·al·ism

[lib-er-uh-liz-uhm, lib-ruh-]

noun

1.

the quality or state of being liberal,  as in behavior or attitude.
2.

a political or social philosophy advocating the freedom of the individual, parliamentary systems of government, nonviolent modification of political, social, or economic institutions to assure unrestricted development in all spheres of human endeavor, and governmental guarantees of individual rights and civil liberties.
3.

( sometimes initial capital letter ) the principles and practices of a liberal  party in politics.
4.

a movement in modern Protestantism that emphasizes freedom from tradition and authority, the adjustment of religious beliefs to scientific conceptions, and the development of spiritual capacities.
As I so often do, I go back to the classic film, The Princess Bride, “Life is change, Highness, anyone who says anything else is selling something.”  You want to keep the world in stasis, you want to preserve the status quo?  Go out and tell the tide to stop, tell the world to stop turning, but get out of my way and let me get my work done.
I am a Liberal and I am working to make the world a better place, not keep it the way it is or never was.
Changes, awesome song.

Released November 7th, 1983

I suppose I have an obligation to explain why it has been almost two months since I have last posted.  I offer no excuses.  I leave you only these simple words to mull over: editing book, children on summer vacation, new puppy, husband away and holding down the fort.  Take a moment.  Discuss amongst yourselves.  It’s okay.  I’ll wait.  And we’re back in 3…2…1…

Last weekend I attended and participated in the 25th Annual Montgomery High School Viking Cross Country Invitational in Santa Rosa.  Mind you, I ran in the FIRST Opener as a high school junior, a zillion years ago.  Okay, somewhere in the ‘80’s. 

And now… on with the show.

I need to start off by saying that my forties thus far have actually  been pretty wonderful.  I dig my children, I adore my husband, I have spent the last two years finding those fabulous friends that I lost along life’s highway and gathering them close once more.   Wonder of wonders, I am writing.  This is a life long dream that is finally seeing the light of day.  I could not be more grateful.  That being said, I was finding myself feeling a little “Murtaugh”.  That’s when you start catching yourself muttering, “I’m getting too old for this shit”.  That’s not very me.  I tend to be almost nauseatingly optimistic and joyful.  Where was the Erika that I had been?  Was I slowly fading, or eek, God forbid, aging?

Last spring, my high school cross-country coach, Larry Meredith, put out the call.  The 25th Annual Viking Opener was happening on September 17th.  Every year the meet includes a two-mile alumni “Fun Run”.  At that point I was still heavy addicted to ice and ibuprofen after tearing my plantar fascia last November but sometimes you just have to make the leap.  I tossed my hat into the ring and said I’d find a way.  Maybe a chance to see all those teammates that I still love so much would help with the Murtaughs.

Watching the emails and the Facebook Posts slowly roll in I became concerned.  Where were my peeps?  No Scarlet Monks? (This is the nickname for the teams I ran with.  The story of this name requires a whole blog entry of its own.)  A couple did sign up but I started thinking about what it would take to really get the band back together.

Obviously, I needed to start stalking my teammates.

Let me digress here, stalking has gotten a bad rap in recent years.  A few psychos have truly taken the fun factor out of it.  Stalking is really a very effective tool to find people and then get them to do what you want them to.  It involves a great deal of Google’ing.  Linked In and Facebook are also wonderful resources.  I even pulled out a few old address books (remember those?) and called some people’s parents.  Slowly, I started seeing results.

Once I found and/or reconnected with my teammates of yore I had to convince them to completely rearrange their lives and come to the race.  Better yet, make a weekend out of it.  There was some guilt, “It’s been so long since I’ve seen you”.  Sometimes there was a little arm-twisting, which is hard when the twist-ee lives two states away.  Other times I resorted to bribery, “I’ll buy the beer”. (I mean, it works on my kids, err, the bribery, not the beer.)  Surprisingly, sometimes people are just glad that you asked and that’s all it takes.  I get that, who doesn’t like being invited to the party?

After all that, race day arrived.  I had only gotten three hours of sleep the night before because Larry had sent out this God-forsaken email with everyone’s PR’s to hit.  I knew, after doing a time trial the previous week, that there was no way I was making mine.  Still I was optimistic that I could beat my previous alumni showing.  Eight years ago I ran the race after I had just had a baby.  I finished last, I was so far behind that they had put away the time clock (I’m not kidding), my shirt was soaked (not with sweat) and I was bleeding (you don’t want to know where).  I was pretty sure I could better 2003.  The real question was; could I find Erika out there on the trail?

As I arrived at Spring Lake I started smiling like a kid on the best Christmas ever.  The people I loved, some of my favorite people ever, were there.  Everywhere you looked there were people hugging, talking animatedly and we all wore the same smile.  Some people who couldn’t run were there to help and to cheer.  The sun was shining, the sky was blue and suddenly, I didn’t feel tired at all.  Then the race started.

The first six tenths of a mile is uphill and while I’ve been training, hey, it’s only been eight weeks.  I was hurting (already) and there was no sign of my younger self.  I wondered if I would find her after all. As we started the uphill section on the second mile, I was beginning to feel a little sorry for myself.  Just as I started that stupid thought, “I’m getting too…” the past Erika was there, bounding joyfully beside me.  This was a mixed blessing.  On the one hand I had been seriously considering walking up the last ten feet of that hill but there was no way I was doing it with the fifteen-year-old version of myself watching.  Are you kidding?  So that was good.  The drawback was, as I said, I was hurting and she, with all the intolerance of the young, thought I was a scrub.

As we ran the last part of the race together, my younger self and I, I was flooded with memories of times and races past.  So many things in the kaleidoscope of my memories come from cross-country.  The first time I went camping, the first time I kissed a boy under the stars, banana pancakes (sorry, Coach, I never did develop a taste for those), hill sprints and spaghetti feeds.  I remember Peewee (her real name is Elizabeth) teaching me how to put on eyeliner and Schaumberg teaching me how to blow my nose without tissue  while running (as he says “ya’ gotta commit”).  I remember the first time I had the dry heaves and thought I was going to die.  Marc Spina patted my back and said, “That’s okay, it means you were doing it right”.   I learned how to play truth or dare, what the F.B.E. is (don’t ask) and I went to my first prom.   I had forgotten just how innocent I was.  I had forgotten how brash and impetuous I had been.  Suddenly, I remembered how impatient I was in high school.  I was also braver then.  Nothing could beat me down.

She, being the outspoken girl that I was, had some really uncomplimentary things to say about me.  You don’t want to know what she thought of how slowly I was running.  I had to take offense at her comments on my weight.  Twenty-seven years and three kids, I wanted to tell her, but I didn’t.  I had never planned on children and my fifteen-year-old self would have been scandalized.  She was surprised that I had grown our hair out and again; I had to bite my tongue.  (This was easy, I was huffing and puffing so much that speech was really out of the question.)  I could have told her, I suppose, that our guy  was out there and that we would get to marry him.  The only drawback is that he has a Rapunzel complex, hence, the long hair.  I didn’t tell her, she would have to live it herself.  Besides, she had already decided that she was never getting married.  Why ruin the surprise?

She ran on, back to my memories and I finished the race in the bottom third of the field.  To my delight they hadn’t even put away the clock yet.  My time was 18:20, not my PR of 13:44, not even the 16:18 I was supposed to hit but it was better that the 19:31 of my time trial the week before.  I didn’t hurt myself on the run.  I felt like I could go home, train harder and run faster and longer.   I felt like me again.   I looked around and basked in the after race talk.  People were replaying the race, giving one another grief and high fiving friends.  The best part of all was that the weekend wasn’t over yet.  We still had the post-race party to go to.

While I enjoy my more traditional reunions, this one was something really special.  It’s all the classes, not just mine.  To see the people who were ahead of me then those that came later; that’s a true joy.  These are the people who I spent the most time with.  We ate, slept, dreamed, and lived cross-country.  I saw them at school, after school and on weekends.  We were a tight group that cheered each other on and helped one another out.  We still are today.

I could do a whole blog entry just on the relationships that I was able to revisit, the people who I could look at and tell them I still love them and always will.  We walked Spring Lake, we had dinner, we drank, we talked and talked some more.  We had a party at Doyle Park. I saw Larry, my Coach, who I’ll always love and who helped shape some of the best parts of who I am now.  He brought me to tears, again.  I laughed until my abs hurt as much as my quads.  I was more honest than one usually is in day-to-day life, more open, and more vulnerable.  I had the wonderful words “Hairy Man” displayed on the caller ID of my phone. I went out for a beer at eleven o’clock.  I got eight hours of sleep for the entire weekend.  I woke up early and loved it.  I roamed Annadel alone with my thoughts.  I had wonderful conversations that lasted for hours.  And I laughed.  Did I mention the laughter?

I know that I’ll always be able to find the real Erika.  She will always be on the trails.  The young me helped show me the road back.   Running is a lot like childbirth.  Through great pain we find even greater joy.

We Scarlet Monks have all agreed we will not let so much time go by again.  A dinner and a run is in the near future.  I think fifteen-year-old Erika would approve.

The Fifteen-year-old Me

She'd come to regret that hair, although not as much as some other styles she'd sport.

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