It had been years since I had gone for a run in my neighborhood all alone; that is, until today.
For most of my 30’s, I would run the same route through my neighborhood every evening at 6:30pm on the dot. And most importantly, this run, for years, had always consisted of me, myself, and I. No one else.
No dogs were allowed on my run. No children were invited to come, and definitely…definitely, no husband was allowed.
And somehow, I let this important evening ritual just slip away. Runs turned into brisk walks and eventually I lost my backbone when the children pleaded to come along. It wasn’t long after that that my husband would then have his bright red Nike shoes already on, laced up, and tied tight. He’d be waiting at the front door at 6:30pm in his grey under armor shorts and white breathable cotton shirt, like a well-trained dog who hears the word “walk” and goes sprinting with his leash between his teeth on all fours to the door.
The only sacred time I had to myself had gotten lost over the years and today I was feeling desperate to get that desired time back. My alone time had turned into family time or some evenings, spouse time.
Before I even knew what happened, I had stopped spending time with myself. The years trailed on, and it seems that even family time has begun to dissolve and gets pushed down the list of priorities. The kids are now older and in multiple sports and activities and all 6 of us, at 6:30pm every evening, seem to go, in what feels like, a thousand different directions.
Today is different. There is a supernatural force beyond my own, pulling me outside in one clear and defiant direction. This same force leads me to yell at the kids and tell them they can’t come with me because they have homework to finish, dishes to put away, and a desperate plea to my husband to finish the laundry because I need to run; I need to run alone; I need to clear my head.
I scramble out the front door almost tripping over the porch steps to get on the sidewalk. My feet; or maybe this unknown force, has me going quicker than I can keep up. I catch myself before I faceplant on the sidewalk and I take a quick left out of my driveway. My pace is so fast I quickly pass the four houses lined up perfectly with mine without any thought at all. And then something happens. I get to the house at the top of the street and time slows down. Time seems to actually stand still. And a thick fog in the air seems to have me held captive in one spot staring at this house.
It is the sort of house you see featured on HGTV in its prime state directly after getting a makeover and before the family living there has anytime to neglect its new facelift. This house has always taken my breath away but in the more than decade that I’ve whizzed by, driven by, or flown by, I have overlooked it. I stop here to stretch. It seems an appropriate place to take a few extra moments under the shade of the gorgeous sycamore tree. The family who lives here certainly does not neglect their stoic traditional brick home. And tonight, an extra ease comes over me as I gaze at its perfect black shutters and oversized double front door to match. They glisten as the sun heads down for the evening. A soft peacefulness blows in the cool breeze, and I welcome it, as it also seems to unfreeze me.
The house presents two timeless wreaths hanging on each front door; I have noticed they get swapped out for ones each season. Four window boxes decorate the windows on the second story and are perfectly manicured with the most beautiful floral arrangements. I feel the same sense of timelessness within me that this home exudes, and my heart feels like it’s been beating for centuries. The arrangements in the window boxes also change around with the seasons just as the wreaths do. However, today, they are still decorated for fall even though winter is headed our way.
I feel a sudden jolt in my heart as I realize I too am heading into a new season of my own, and yet, I am feeling stuck in a prior one just like these window boxes. Nature forces change on the seasons without a choice, and maybe I will be propelled out of my own season by force. Although, that is not what I want. I decide, right here in this moment, that my run tonight is exactly what I need to give me the space and clarity in my head to plan for the new season coming. This way I will be able to intentionally walk into this next chapter of my life knowing my exact footing and no one will have to force me.
I am about to begin my stretching routine and realize there is a mystic energy in the thick air, I lean down to touch my toes and even though I am just shy of 45 years old now I can still put my hands flat on the ground in front of me when I stretch. As I hold this stretch with my head down low, my eyes veer up. The yard is equally manicured as the window boxes and I am sure an average set of eyes looking around wouldn’t need any proof of this, but right in front of me under the sycamore tree is a large rock engraved with “Beautification Award 2022” boldly stating witness to the yard’s beauty.
Next to the rock is a classic wrought iron bench with an intricate design swirling the iron in many directions. I’ve walked and driven passed this bench many times, but tonight the bench is glowing alongside the shutters and front door. The circumference of the shade from the tree branches forms a perfect circle around the bench and where the grass doesn’t grow due to the shade of the tree, there is a perfect circle consisting of short prickly vines on the ground guarding the bench.
I envision myself walking through the prickly vines to sit on the bench and start to wonder if it will transcend me into some secret garden full of withered roses, lilies, and lilacs that all need me to save them and bring them back to life. A tug at my heart tells me I need to bring myself back to life.
After experiencing so much loss and death this year it’s possible that I am not only entering a new season of my own life, but a season that is also life-giving.
My thoughts are getting a bit out of control, and before my mind wanders too far through the prickly vines to place myself on a magic timeless bench to save dying flowers, I decide to reel myself in.
I step over to the brick mailbox at the edge of the street and place one hand on either side. I prop my right foot up onto the brick leaving my heal on the ground and lean forward feeling that hard stretch pull. It shoots right up the back of my leg and lets my sore calf muscle stretch out feeling so good. I breathe deeply and count to twenty. I try to focus on the run ahead of me that will clear my mind. It has been getting so noisy in my head lately and I really could use some clarity. I take my foot off the brick mailbox flat to the ground with two feet I bounce on my tip toes a few times. I prop up my left foot to stretch that calf.
As I feel the tension pull up the back of my leg, I lean in harder and come face to face with the most elegant carriage house die-cast lamp sitting atop the brick column mailbox. The lamp looks to be 100 years old, about how old I feel right now, and I am thrusted back into some magical daydream.
How many families have lived in this house I wonder? How many families has this lamp protected each night? Has this beautiful dye-cast lamp watched over countless children that played in the front yard or that stood in line right here to catch the school bus each morning? Has this lamp heard bickering from the married couple inside on dark evenings coming from the master bedroom window, or the slamming of the front door and pealing out of the driveway at midnight? Has this magical lamp watched intently as the same couple danced in the kitchen and kissed passionately?
Right below the lamp in the center of the pillar is an antique copper door flush with the brick. The door displays just one small knob on the right and has a large calligraphy “E” in the center. Underneath in smaller print reads “The Edevane’s”. Below that in even smaller print reads “Established in 1948”. I decide the lamp is not 100 years old after all, but close. And surely many families have lived here, as I know the current family is not the Edevane’s, but I suppose it is hard to erase history. If I lived here, I would leave the original owners name here as well to honor the past. I go back to imagining this sophisticated lamp and how it must know all the contents of the mail that has come and gone in and out of this impressive copper mailbox door.
I give my head a good shake to the left and the right and figure I better get this run started so I can clear my head and stop with all the silly thoughts. A run has always been the only way I can truly clear my head, and quite possibly escape.
I may have actually been in my 20’s when I learned that I can’t escape myself entirely. It became evident that no matter how far I ran, I was, in fact, always still there; stuck with myself everywhere I go. There is no distance and no pace that can make me escape myself. Somehow, I am always still there, stuck with me. But a good run alone will allow me to escape the clutter and noise in my head, at least, that is the plan for this run.
Over the last decade, most of the noise and clutter in my head came from all the people I loved; my four wonderful children, along with my husband. They were the loudest noises. All their many needs, wants and desires and somehow, I seemed to be the only one who could meet them. These noises, back then, pushed with force into my head. Pressure building up until it finally would break through and pierce my brain at a faster rate than I can process it, like a thumbtack going through a corkboard. There seemed to be no easy way to just prick the thumbtacks right out, so I would run back then to escape the noise. As I ran the thumbtacks slowly, one at a time would prick out of my head and float through the wind, some longer than others, until they hit the pavement beside me and I simply and carefreely I would run right passed them never to see them again.
Lately, however, the noise in my head is from other loved ones. In fact, from loved ones I’ve recently lost. My dad called less than a year ago to tell me he was sick. Countless trips to see him, 18 hours away, leaving my own family behind. I left my husband to pick up all the pieces when I jumped on yet another plane without warning for the next emergency, with no date of when I would return. I still worry I didn’t spend enough time with him. I know I didn’t say all the things I needed to. And right in the middle of dad’s cancer treatments my younger brother, at the age of 38, had a stroke. More traveling to a different city to be with him as he was intubated, then recovered, did therapy to recover more, and getting better. Praying and begging God, pleading with God, day after day, to heal them both.
My father and my brother; both stuck in hospital beds unable to see each other and then both buried within 6 months of each other. Dead.
I’ve been managing my children’s feelings of loss. Their uncle and grandfather now gone. I’ve kept my fulltime job in sales; my clients happy enough, and I’ve even been able to grow business; I’ve done the laundry and fed my tribe. Can you believe these people eat three meals a day…every day? I’ve gone through the emotions of sadness and despair. Anger and resentment. Loneliness and confusion. Guilt and denial. Panic and anxiety. Relief and calm. Fear and exhaustion, hope and strength. I settle tonight on a sense of strength to keep my focus on as my feet are taking me fast and my muscle memory has my body practically flying on the pavement.
These noises are racing out of my head, finally, as I pick up speed. But they are still swirling around me like a tornado. With so much loss this year has also come betrayal from people I thought I knew. Death of a loved one reaches into your soul deeper and it exposes you; the good and the bad. Death of a loved one exposes who we are at our core. Some might call it misplaced grief, but now I understand it as an exposed soul. And that exposure raw and somehow toxic for some.
I feel jaded. I want desperately to be strong, and weakness is entering my head; I’m focusing on my strength, I’m running fast. Maybe I am broken like my husband told me last month. And maybe I can never be put together again. “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall…”, my brain starts to sing, as and these thoughts pierce through my heart. I am broken.
There is a new season ahead of me, one in which I need to bring myself back to life and mend the brokenness. The noises in my head are not falling to the sidewalk beside me like I want them to, like they always do; something else is happening. They are following me, haunting me on my run. Maybe I am not supposed to move passed this hardship. Maybe I cannot escape this noise. Maybe some history needs to be held onto. I have released a lot of noise and like a raincloud above one’s head it is dangling above me. I was not prepared for this thunderstorm, but at least it is now above me and no longer within me.
I stop abruptly and realize I’ve already gone my usual route around the entire neighborhood, and I am standing back in front of this stunning, timeless, house. I’m sweating profusely and not sure if it’s from the brisk run or from my anxiety releasing through my pores. I feel good; better, I think to myself, but I want to linger a bit more before I go home. I need to slow my heart rate before walking back into my own external cyclone of checking homework, packing lunches for tomorrow, figuring out sports schedules for the week ahead, locking up devices before bed, getting four kids into bed, spending quality time with my husband and finally looking at my own work schedule to see what meetings I need to prepare for.
I decide to warm down slowly and take my time stretching. I hold the brick mailbox, just as I had done an hour earlier, one hand on either side. I lift my right foot up onto the brick column and lean in for a good stretch. The copper mailbox door glistens, even though the sun has already set, and when I look down, I see a large calligraphy “JRH” on it. I blink a few times and carefully read below it, “Jenny R. Hardison”. Under my name it reads “Established in 2127”. I jump back scared to touch the mailbox. I’m certain I am seeing things. Why does my neighbor’s mailbox have my name on it? I look around wondering if someone is going to jump out from behind the sycamore tree and yell, “Smile, you are on a hidden camera!”
“Oh no,” I moan out loud as I remember that I ate those absurd gummies last night. My husband swore they were FDA approved for anxiety and sleep and honestly for the first time in months I slept. But maybe they were laced with something. I've never taken any gummy before, so that must be it, I am hallucinating. I stare at the antique copper mailbox, and it still has my name on it. Is it a federal crime to open someone else’s mail, I wonder? But the mailbox clearly has my name on it. Before I can think through the ramifications of me opening my neighbor’s mailbox and before I have time to think about the Ring camera catching me on video, I’ve already swung the heavy copper door open, and I see absolutely nothing inside.
“Thank goodness” I begin to tell myself; I am seeing things; I am definitely hallucinating. Relief flows through my bones.
I begin to close the door slowly and hope no neighbors are spying and wondering what on earth I could be doing. But in a millisecond, just like that, a pink envelope with my name appears out of nowhere. Smack-dab in the center of the box. I grab it and slam the copper door shut, looking over my shoulder, I see no one there and without hesitation I flip it over and there is a golden wax seal with my initials carved in it “JRH” and if I didn’t know better, these initials seem to be in my handwriting.
The wax feels a little warm to touch like it is still settling in, but without thinking I’ve already torn the seal open on the envelop. I recognize the handwriting right away as my own and read outload “Dearest Jenny”, but before I get to the next sentence, a life size hologram of an old lady appears right before my eyes.
“Hi Jenny”, she says in a soft sophisticated voice. “I need to make this quick because I only paid for 3 minutes, and I know you have a lot of questions you want to ask. I cannot hear you, but I am the future you, in case you were wondering and didn’t recognize yourself.”
Hell no, I didn’t recognize myself, I look 100 years old, literally, although I have to admit my skin looks refreshingly young under all that grey hair.
“Technology has come a long way over the last 100 years,” she says, “I am…well, I mean…you are now…I mean…we are now 149 years old. The average lifespan, of you can believe it, is 150 and well you know how you like to defy the odds,” she giggles, “We are healthy at 149!" she says as she throws a fist up in the air.
"Science has come a long way. We have a cure for cancer and really all diseases at this point. People still die of aircraft accidents, well we don’t call them cars anymore, they are mini aircrafts! Murders still happen because we haven’t found a way to eradicate the evil of the human heart, but we do, however, live much, much, much longer now a days."
She takes a deep breath and goes on, “Oh, and everyone is good. I wanted to tell you that. The kids are all grown, and the grands, great-grands, the triple-grands, and the quad-grands are all well and they are growing up fast!” She shouts some weird, “Woo-hoo,” and throws her fist back up in the air, “We have the best family gatherings. You have so much to look forward to. And we have this new thing where we can talk to the past, well obviously, you can see that now, and it’s not new-new as they’ve had bugs and tweaks, they’ve had to work out of it, but pretty new. We can go back and talk to our younger selves.”
She begins talking much faster now, “But again, I only have 2 minutes left... so here it goes…. you are a strong woman. Your strength is at your core. You are a cornerstone for your family and for your community. Your ability to provide calmness for so many people, along with a sense of order and belonging only strengthens with age for you. Many look up to you. And while you always feel a raging river inside you, you are channeling it for good. And I wish you had a cheerleader to tell you these things. And you don't, so I am here. But my dearself, you need to make time for yourself. You need to be easier on yourself; meditate on the Grace that has been bestowed on you. It has been an especially hard year for you. And it is time for you to evolve into a better, stronger version of yourself. Ourself.” She gives a curtsey and lifts her skirt with each hand off to the sides.
Wait a minute! I’m wearing a skirt?? I say under my breath, 'Is this really me'? She...me... goes on, “It is time you find a way to keep your mind healthy and sharp and escape all that obnoxious noise in your head. You need your alone time to recharge.”
She continues, “And you know” she rolls her eyes, “this big magical house you've been in awe of? It gets torn down eventually. They build a Boxhome here. The kids who live here are rotten and spoiled and the yard goes to shit.” She’s practically yelling my name, “Jenny, are you listening? They all turn into boxhomes.” but I am so mesmerized, and I start to look 'to see if anyone is around as a witness, But then I hear her and I think,, 'What in the world is a Boxhome?'
“You know, Minecraft homes,” she says, as if she is reading my thoughts. Is she reading my thoughts? I mean she says she is me. Am I still hallucinating?
She goes on, “Please understand that things are just things”, she says. “And things are all fleeting; they fade and wither like the grass. You are nearing death too my dearest self, now at 149 years old, you may only have a few years left, if we really can defy odds. Even you will wither from this Earth like the grass.” She leans down and touches the grass, well actually the pavement, but I guess when she filmed this there was grass under her.
“There is only one thing that remains and stands the test of time in this world,” She holds up her finger and points to her chest. “Your soul, your exposed soul."
Wow, wait, did she just use my thought's I had a minute ago on my run? Is she really me? I mean, we do think alike. Was she in my head on the run? Is she the future me or the me, me? I am so confused but I am taking it all in.
“So lastly, before I go, I want to tell you how important it is that you take care of yourself; but also, your husband and your children; they are your legacy. Put all that noise in your head out on paper if you need to and share your thoughts if that is what clears out your soul, do it for both of us. Words will outlive us. Your story is a window to your soul.”
And with that the hologram of me starts to fade away. She is losing her color and becomes fuzzy and is now black and white. “Oh, and one more thing” she’s waving her finger in my face now, “Your family, she starts to flicker in and out and I am a little offended that I’m waiving a finger in my own face. I make a mental note to never waive my finger again at anyone the rest of my 100+ years. “Life is hard but push through. You plateau in a few years and then you are on higher ground, so keep pushing through those hard days and years and you will land on two feet,” she starts to flicker and I’m holding on to every word now, “You will rise up,” she finally finishes. Just as I think she is gone, she appears back without any fading, darker, actually and with the loudest, strongest voice, she says, “You, my dearself, are stronger than you know, remember that. Set your eyes and your soul on what is eternal.”
I stare at the letter in my hands, and within moments it too is gone. Evaporated into thin air.
The copper door on the mailbox has an “E” on it again and the history of the Edevane’s family still stands. Will this house really be torn down one day and a box house built? I wonder. What even is a Boxhouse? What even just happened? Will the Edevane’s name be torn down too? My turtle-like pace takes me back to my own front door and I am a bit nervous I might see a flying unicorn or a pot of gold as I slowly make my way back to my home. I feel the magic in the air, but I have no idea if what I just experienced is real or not.
It feels real.
I open my front door. There is a huge fort in the dining room. Every blanket we own has been strung up to the light fixtures hanging down and around the chairs and there are 4 flashlights underneath the dining room table. I think how sweet it is that at my kids ages, practically teens now, they still play together.
Maybe we don’t have a perfectly manicured yard or a magical wrought iron bench, but we have love and memories. I look over to my husband and back at my kids. My gaze is fixed on nothing and on everything at the same time and my husband comments that I look like I saw a ghost.
I mean the guy is pretty insightful. I say to him, and everyone, and maybe no one at all, because I am not even sure who I am talking to, "I am going to go and write it all down."
I am a mother of 4 small children. I am happiest when I am busiest and if the kids don't keep me busy enough I need projects to fill my days. I love Jesus and I love my family and I love the chaos around me for it brings the calm.