Monday, March 21, 2011
Family Matters: The Incomparable Joy of Togetherness
When I was eleven years-old, I nearly lost my left hand in a lawnmower accident. I can close my eyes now and remember it all so vividly. The doctors told my parents that they would try to reattach the fingers, but that they may have to go back and remove them if they did not reattach properly of if an infection took hold.
“Even if the procedure does work,” they warned, “she may never have full use of her hand again.”
I was conscious during the surgery. I remember screaming as loud as I could. I was terrified they were going to cut off my hand.
“Don’t cut it!” I yelled. “Please! Don’t!”
The doctors did an amazing job repairing my hand. I remember the faces of my family as they gathered around my hospital bed, kissing me, consoling me, telling me how much they loved me. I can see the face of my brother, Stephen. His blue eyes radiated love. What would I have done without that love? Where would I be today had my family not been there for me?
Last year, I was sitting in a hotel room in New York City with Sister Marybeth, right across from where we were going to be on the Today Show the next morning. It was three days before the start of Run Hope. Traffic was humming away outside. My heart was buzzing. I told Sister Marybeth I was going to call my brother, Stephen, who now lives in New York and works as a writer and artist. It had been over eleven years since I last talked to him.
When we were kids, Stephen and I were very close. We played and hung out together. He was incredibly smart. In high school, he was always bored with classes, finishing books long before the rest of the class. He loved sports and was very good at ice hockey.
We were similar in many ways and so different in others. But, our bond was incredibly strong. When I ran my first marathon, I was so afraid that I wouldn’t make it to the finish line. One week before the race, without any training, Stephen announced he was going to sign up and run it with me, just to support me to the end.
Eleven years is a long time to live without your brother. It broke my heart that he was not a part of my life. In all those years, I called and left messages, sent cards and letters, but never got a response from him. I desperately wanted to hear from brother.
“Let’s pray about it,” Sister Marybeth said as I moved to pick up the phone.
The line rang and rang. I waited nervously. Then, his voice message came on. I recorded my message:
“Stephen, it’s me, Lisa. Please return my call. I’m in New York and I’d love to see you or talk to you.”
The line clicked out and it was over. I can't discuss it all right now, but in the book I am writing, I will go into detail about why Stephen left our family life for so long. All I can say is that when my brother showed up in Central Park for Run Hope on his roller blades and then ran three miles with, I was overjoyed. I felt like we were kids again. My heart was filled to the brim with love, just like it was that day in the hospital, when I was just a scared child looking up to my family for comfort.
While in New York, Stephen and I talked and laughed and shared in the joy of being together. Eleven years of waiting just dissipated. It was no longer important. I didn’t care about the whys. With my brother back in my life, all I could feel was happy.
Stephen and I understand each other. Our connection is deep. I can share absolutely anything and everything with him. Our reunion was cleansing in many ways. Forgiveness healed our hearts. New York marked the start of a new beginning, a new chapter for both of us and for our whole family.
Run Hope was a family project. It wasn’t just about running. It was about gathering together as a singular, powerful force to make a difference in the world. My mother and father came out to see me. My husband and my children. My sister and my brothers. Old friends whom I hadn’t seen in years. Aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, my in-laws, students. All came out to support me. They guided me through the most challenging project of my athletic career. They believed in me. With them by my side, the impossible became possible.
George Eliot once wrote, “What greater thing is there for human souls than to feel that they are joined for life - to be with each other in silent unspeakable memories.” She may well have been talking about family, because there is no deeper, more meaningful connection than the one we have with those closest to us.