The day I threw out my rearview mirror was a cold, February morning.
I recall how, six months prior, I crossed the finish line of the Seattle Rock and Roll half-marathon, sweaty but exuberant. But what a difference half a year and a serious car accident could make. My new injuries meant I no longer ran — I walked. My full-court press was now “a sit and look at the court.” My vertical leap had disappeared overnight. After a mile loop I stopped, tired and sweaty. My hip ached. I sat down in frustration. My “poor me” voice had its moment aloud in the spotlight: “One measly slow mile wiped me out more than 13 running miles did last year. Is this what the next 40 years are going to hold?”
The spider next to me on the trail caught my attention as a fly ripped through its beautiful web. After wrapping up its meal, it began laboriously repairing the large tear in the now-destroyed tapestry. I sat and watched it work. Daily, this spider made a lovely web. Every time it was ripped apart. It didn’t sit and wallow in self-pity. It didn’t worry that today’s web wouldn’t be as glorious as the one two days ago. It didn’t waste time wondering how long the new web would remain perfect before it was once again destroyed. The spider just accepted that part of life was moving on and building a new web when the old one was damaged. In that moment, I had an epiphany. I realized that sometimes bravery means we look for the fly in our web. We search it out and wrap it up. We take care of it, even when doing so means ripping apart the remaining intact threads. I finally accepted that courage can mean building again from the ground up. Refusing to look at the webs of yesterday; refusing to look in the rearview mirror.
That night, at the dinner table, I owned the unflattering thoughts that remained voiceless and hidden for months. My family had heard me on numerous occasions express gratitude we walked away relatively unharmed from the accident. I confessed I also privately lamented how different and painful things were. I vowed to embrace the vision of my dear friend, Carol Decker, who after losing her sight and limbs to sepsis, chose to find a new normal, and progress from there.
The next step was harder. I tore up my old running logs and removed my name from marathon series mailing lists. Finisher’s medals, jerseys, and awards were shoved deep in a drawer. Reminders of yesterday were scarce. I was, after all, starting my new web. Then I got out a fresh log. The first entry—walked one mile today.
There have been many entries, flies, and webs since. Images from my rearview mirror have been replaced with new joyful firsts. The first post-accident trek up Mount Peak. First time skiing. Our first trip to Whistler, Canada, after the accident, I wondered if images of effortlessly running up and down the slopes with backpack and kids in tow would haunt me. We rode the lift to the top of the mountain, selected a moderate five-mile hike and set off.
With a bit of trepidation, I brought up the rear. It wasn’t easy, but plugging away, I did it, step by step. Toward the end of the hike, my daughter, Natalie, scaled a craggy rock. “Come up, Mom. You have got to see this.” I pushed and pulled myself to the top. Standing beside her, sweat dripping, I looked out over the raw, jagged, snow-covered mountains. I saw narrow tall pine trees, growing sideways against the blustery, icy winds. I looked down and saw a small crevice in the side of the rock on which we stood. In the black, uninhabitable hole, stretched a beautiful spider web. “Mom,” Natalie exclaimed, “I don’t think I’ve seen anything like this before.”
I paused, and looked around with my newly awakened gaze, “Natalie, I don’t think I have either.”
During this pandemic year, it is easy to hold our collective breath for when “normal” returns. It’s tempting to judge our lives with gazes firmly affixed to rearview mirrors, lamenting the differences between present day reality and past glory days. Perhaps today is a day to spin a new, more beautiful web. To reset our “normal”. To throw out the rearview mirrors and seize the day. With this paradigm shift comes growth, opportunities, and a chance to experience new “firsts”. It isn’t always easy, but facing forward and moving ahead joyfully, we can create our most glorious memories.