On Saturday, I ran my first long slow run in a couple of weeks. (I'd missed two previous weekend runs because I was travelling in Belize then recovering from a nasty chest cold I picked up while I was away.) The day was relatively mild for February but it had already started raining by the time I headed out the door and forecasters were calling for worsening weather (heavy rains and high winds) as the day went on. The weather was nasty enough and I was feeling sick enough that I might have opted to stay inside - except that I was determined to participate in a virtual run taking place in hundreds of locations around the world in honour of Sherry Arnold.
Sherry, was a 43 years old married mother of two and stepmother of three. She disappeared on January 7th around 6:30 a.m. while running near her home in Sidney, Montana. Though her body has yet to be found, two men have been arrested in connection with her disappearance and one has confessed to killing her.
Sherry's cousin, Beth, another runner who writes a wonderful blog called Shut Up + Run, has written a lot about Sherry and her disappearance over the past month. By all accounts, Sherry was a warm, talented, strong and compassionate woman who won't soon be forgotten. (Please visit Beth's blog to learn more about Sherry and consider making a donation in support of the two children she left behind.)
During my run for Sherry, I was determined to celebrate her life rather than focusing on the grim details of her death, but it was hard not to feel angry and sad as I headed into Miller's Head Peace Park at the midpoint of my 18k run. Another woman lost to the senseless violence that pervades out culture. Would it never stop? Though I did my best to savour the solitude and sweet smell of pine needles crunching beneath my feet, despair and cold drizzle made it difficult to enjoy the park as much as I usually do. In desperation, I began searching around me for bright spots to lighten my mood.
The first one I noticed was this brilliant green moss clinging to some rocks lying beside the trail.
I love moss like this - soft and glistening, it reminds me of the mosses that blanket tree trunks on Vancouver Island where I studied at a small international college many years ago. Though the trees that fill Peace Park are much less majestic than those in BC's old growth forests, the moss growing on and around them often makes me think of the college and the happy years I spent there.
The second bright spot came in the form of two umbrellas carried by a couple who were entering the park as I was leaving.
Crayon yellow and pink, they made me think of the tulips that will spring from the ground in a few months. And I loved that these folks braved the bad weather to walk hand in hand through the park. It seems that, like me, they know that Peace Park is a very special place.
As I exited the park and turned to run towards home, I focused once again on Sherry and how her life had affected so many other in such positive ways. She was a well-loved teacher and friend whose legacy of courage, strength and grace was the brightest spot on a grey and gloomy day - a bright spot I will carry in my heart and mind as I train for my first (and likely last!) 50k race in May.
From what I've read, Sherry and I shared a love of running but I think we also shared a deep and abiding belief in its transformative power - so thinking about Sherry will remind me that the most important thing about my running is not that it keeps me slim and relatively fit (though those things are good too) or that it satisfies my type A craving for ever greater challenges. The most important thing about running is that it offers opportunities to breathe deeply, contemplate how I want to live my life, and practice caring and compassion for myself and others. Through running, I've learned a lot about myself, made wonderful friends, raised money for worthwhile causes, and honoured inspiring people like Sherry, Jon and Kirsi. In short, running has helped (and is helping) me to be more fully the person I want to be.
So, thank you Sherry. I hope you rest a bit more peacefully knowing you've inspired so many of us to try to live with as much compassion, courage and integrity as you did.