Great Unexpectations

I’ll make one thing very clear: I am not a runner. I don’t even like exercise all that much but I will begrudgingly admit it has its benefits. I am a few pounds (okay, more than a few pounds) overweight and just like everyone else, I have fitness goals I would like to achieve. So I kick myself in the butt and drudge through a couple of miles around the neighborhood every week. Recently, I’ve worked my way up to jogging three miles straight. In the Florida heat and humidity, this takes a special kind of inner pep talk to get me to tie up those running shoes.

You should get out there and get it over with.

But it’s so flippin’ hot!

Think of how good you’ll feel afterward.

If I don’t die of heatstroke first.

Those extra pounds aren’t going to disappear with wishful thinking. No pain, no—

It’s been a rough week. I’m tired. Please, just let me enjoy my afternoon bowl of popcorn in peace.

Okay. You’re an adult. You can make your own choices.

Thank y—

But I don’t want to hear your complaining when you step on the scale tomorrow morning.

Pause. Groan. Put away popcorn machine.

On the weekends, I wake up early. The world is quiet. No traffic, no pedestrians. Just the buzz of June bugs under cardinal calls and mockingbird songs. I’ve grown accustomed to the sulfuric well water smell misting from yard sprinklers. It hisses and spits over clean cut, verdant grass, adding weight to the already heavy morning air. There is no breeze at this early hour. The thick atmosphere hangs over the ground, wet, still and warm. So it’s pretty much like running through smelly bean soup.

I don’t wear earbuds. The morning soundtrack is what keeps me grounded. There’s a lot of chaos and noise in the world and this is the one place where I can unplug for a little while. For that reason, I do look forward to these morning runs. Unfortunately, after the first mile I’m content. By the second mile, my body chimes up.

“Okay, that’s enough. Can we go home and eat food now?”

The two and a half mile mark makes or breaks me. Now I can usually talk myself through a final half mile. By then, my sense of satisfaction for sticking with it to the end overrides my desire to quit. But this morning was different. Here I was, down to the last half mile of my run and the meter on my reserve fuel tanks had tilted into the red zone. I only had a few minutes of energy left. Wiping a river of sweat off my temple, I set my eyes on the end of the road.

I can do this. I’ve done it before. Go ahead. Go for it.

So I slogged through the next quarter of a mile.

Oh God.

The energy was draining faster than usual today.

I’m going to die right here on this pavement.

I just didn’t have it in me.

By the time the paramedics arrive I will have drowned in my own sweat. Oh jeez, I hope they won’t disclose that in my obituary.

Was it the work week that had sapped me dry? Was it my irritation with my neighbors who, now a week after the 4th  of July holiday, were still shooting off fireworks at two in the morning? I turned onto the final street of my route, my low fuel alarms blaring. I closed my eyes. It was time to just admit this was going to be one of those ‘off’ days and raise the white flag of surrender.

When I opened my eyes again and looked down that short but unreachable distance of road, I noticed another runner ahead of me. She was two hundred feet away, jogging about the same rate as I was. She had the same stride. In fact, everything about her reminded me of myself: weight and build, dark running clothes, dark hair pulled into a bun. The fiction writer in me suddenly sat up and blurted an absurd, but entertaining, thought.

“Dude! What if you accidentally ran through a time portal and this really was a version of yourself running up ahead? Oh my God, wouldn’t that be weird?” The possibility amused me.

The writer in me continued, “What if, stay with me, this is like that moment in Harry Potter where he sees his future self accomplish something great so the Harry Potter in the present believes he can accomplish it too?” Huh. I smiled at the thought. It was absurd, but it was also just entertaining enough to get me through these final few minutes of my workout. I decided to run with it.

The weight in my legs ebbed away. A new surge of energy and inspiration washed through me and the last quarter mile suddenly felt like my first. I picked up my feet, breathed in deeper and peddled after my ‘future self’. The distance closed. I would reach my goal after all. I would have my Rocky Balboa moment for the day. The invisible finish line was now seconds away. But as I approached my three mile mark, I saw the girl up ahead slow to a walk and rest. The fiction writer shook my shoulders now.

“Holy crap,” she choked down the excitement, “what if you’re the inspiration for your future self now…but, like, even further in the future? What if you pull ahead of her and became another version of your future self in this weird space-time continuum?”

You are certifiably crazy.

“I know,” she clapped her hands, delighted at the observation. “But what if?”

I almost laughed. My resolve renewed, fueled by the insanity of the idea. Nothing around me had changed. The temperature wasn’t cooler. The humidity hadn’t lightened. But I’d found inspiration in a complete stranger. In that moment, where the inner dialogue shifted from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I want’, all my inhibitions melted away. The pavement under my feet, the air in my lungs, the trees lining the road, all suddenly became my quiet cheerleaders.  I caught up to this ‘future self’ and as I passed, I waved, smiled and said ‘good morning’.

It was not me. Just another jogger out enjoying an early Sunday morning.

“Aw, too bad,” the writer sighed. “That would have been one hell of a story, am I right?”

The woman nodded and smiled back and I continued on— for another half mile.

Eventually, the inspiration faded and I conceded to a walk. I was exhausted and exhilarated with the morning’s turn of events. This was the farthest I had run. Ever. A few minutes ago I was struggling, ready to give up and now here I stood at a new personal best. And that woman will never know how she was the one responsible for my breakthrough. That is the beauty of this life. We can all go about our own business, stuck in our mundane routines and, without even realizing it, still inspire others. What if we allowed ourselves to run with just one silly, ridiculous moment of inspiration a day? Imagine the new mile markers we’d reach. –E.R.

Evolve to Love

Header Glass Windchime 1

I’m still trying to process Sunday’s tragedy in Orlando. What happens to a person that causes them to snap and take their fear and rage out on innocents? Perhaps we’re not supposed to figure it out. Dissecting such a horror can easily suck us into the event horizon of fear and hatred ourselves. I cannot begin to fathom the sadness felt in the communities of all my brothers and sisters. Not just the LGBTQ community but the decent majority in the Muslim community, left ashamed and branded by the horrific acts of the extreme few. As a fellow human being, I feel equally ashamed and branded. To be a part of a society that breeds this type of behavior is unthinkable. I am a human being and human beings can be insanely cruel. It is needless heartbreak. Haven’t we all had enough?

The chaos in our world does a very good job of distracting us from our daily life. Chaos shakes our foundations and distorts our view of ourselves and the world around us. But chaos can also show us the way back to the true meaning in life. The meaning of love and friendship. The meaning of sharing our hearts, unabashedly and without hesitation, to those in need—and even those who do not realize they are in need. This is what it means to be human. Not the senseless cruelty we inflict on each other with violence or slurs. Isn’t it strange how one must learn how to hate, but one does not need to be taught how to love?

In our beginning, we were all the same. We were all innocent babies without opinions and demands on those around us. We asked for our needs to be met: to be fed and clothed and loved, but we did not form thoughts of hate and judgment in this innocence. There was no room for it in our hearts. Where do we learn this cruelty? Where do we learn how “not-to-love” one another? How can we continue to live this way? We can’t. We simply can’t. The only salve for these wounds comes in the form of hope. Hope in the sense that we will see good come from this tragedy. That we will see growth in compassion and understanding. We must.

To those who will undoubtedly hold fast to your close-mindedness, I implore you: look beyond your opinion of the truth. Open your hearts and open your minds. Stretch your perspective and the limited vision of self or the world you’ve created around you. Put yourselves in others’ shoes. Evolve to become better human beings to each other. To be human is to love. It is in our inherit nature to love. It is what we were all born to do. No matter what path we decide to follow, our one and only mission in life is to love. Nothing else matters.

Late Bloomer

“Nothing stirs a soul so mightily as two polar emotions, singularly enthroned. Love unconditional or the tiny terror of something unknown.” – D.M.

So, here it is. My tiny terror. Something new, exciting and far out of my comfort zone. This will be my unveiling. I am unfolding the raw, tender petals of a woman no one knows exists. Erica Ruhe, the writer. Sharing my personal creativity has been a challenge. It’s comfortable to create something no one can criticize or ridicule. It’s safe to create something for yourself and never share it with the world. But over time, this comfortable, safe approach to my work has felt incomplete.

I’ve always felt a little bit behind the rest of the world, a late bloomer, if you will. From a young age, there was a disconnect between me and the rest of society. I honed my survival skill of fitting in, making small talk and attending social events. That’s what normal people do, right? It didn’t come naturally to me, so I faked it. As long as I kept my mismatched petals from popping out, I could pass for any kind of flower. That was the beauty of being an inconspicuous bud on the tree.

Occasionally, I got comfortable and opened up my septal shell, showing a hint of my true colors. I wasn’t quite sure what species of flower I was because I’d never opened my petals far enough to find out. But I tried. When the judgments and questions began, I realized I wasn’t like the other roses around me. Those moments were the painful reminder to ‘quiet my crazy’ and go back to being a bud.

This went on so long I had convinced myself and everyone around me that I was a bud. I felt the only shred of authenticity in my character were my flaws. At the edge of a failed long-term relationship, a non-existent career and declining health, I realized my camouflage and ‘survival’ skills had ultimately failed me. This wasn’t how I was going to live the rest of my life. It was time to grab my excuses by the collar and show them the door.

Now, I am in the middle of a very long, very emotional epiphany. I have spent the past few years trying to get to know this woman inside, for she has kept hidden a cache of intimate longings, passionate inspiration and disturbing secrets. Even from me. This woman does not have all the answers, but she listens. She does not express herself well in public, but she knows exactly what she wants to say. The more she reveals, the more I’m aware of an inevitable step in my own evolution. Like the moment before a water molecule becomes steam, I feel my spirit buzzing, anticipating, eager to expand. Labor pains of consciousness are preceding a new birth of self I never saw coming. My spring has finally arrived.

So, there it is, dear readers. My first step in a long walk to self-discovery as a writer in the public eye. I’ll face my tiny terror, nausea and all, to finally open up and share a few words. My hope is that something you read here will speak to you, stir an emotion, spark an opinion.