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And Even the Heavens Did Weep

The sky finally opened tonight, albeit only somewhat, seeping through some of the rain that had been building, teasing this parched parcel of Earth for so many days.

It wasn’t a deluge, nor was it a even much of a pattering of drops on shingles, a soft percussion to the harshness of the past near-two hundred of days. It wasn’t any of these, nor was it any of the other numbered types of rain Douglas Adams depicted in So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. It certainly wasn’t Type17, that’s for sure.

No, tonight, when the clouds could take no more, they merely revealed their fault lines, traceable through the moisture slipping through those cracks and falling to earth, moistening the ground, as an eye tears when the wind is just so. But, despite the distant thunder, there was little wind, little much of anything, save a little bit of rain.

And yet it seemed sufficient, those sundry drops somehow satisfying the thirst of those below. It wasn’t the need to saturate the ground to make the crops grow or refill the aquifer so much as it was the need to simply relieve the pressure that had been building, literally and figuratively, knowing what was inevitable but just on some precipice unknown—what it is that keeps us up nights despite knowing the nourishment sleep can bring to mind and body but staying up anyway, worrying unnecessarily. An uncomfortable tension between two forces at odds with one another until both just succumb and let happen what we are powerless to keep from happening.

Sometimes, even the sky just needs a good cry.

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Into the Unknown

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

GORKON: I offer a toast. …The undiscovered country, …the future.

ALL: The undiscovered country.

SPOCK: Hamlet, act three, scene one.

GORKON: You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.

CHANG: (in Klingonese) ‘To be or not to be.’

http://www.chakoteya.net/movies/movie6.html

As the youngest of my folks’ kids, there wasn’t often I didn’t have a guide of some sort. To call my sister a role model would be an almost gross exaggeration of how I perceived her; “cautionary tale” would be much more accurate.

For example, when she, again, was busted one evening for breaking curfew, she screamed out how “Mr. Perfect” (her sarcastic nickname for how she felt my parents perceived me—though she wasn’t exactly wrong) also broke curfew; I just never got caught. After her grounding and being sent to her room, I entered in the guise of being the kind, concerned kid brother. Instead, I just let her know that her methodology was all wrong: When coming in late, one should never go through the primary entrances of the doorways, both of which led through the living room. After all, even if our light sleeper of a mother wasn’t waiting in her recliner, the shifts in air pressure by opening/closing the doors would alert her that someone was either coming or going. Instead, I offered, go through the windows.

Throughout most of my life, I’ve looked at what others have done in order to gauge how my own efforts should go. This has gone through both the example of my sister or other elders, reading academic and anecdotal literature (and I use the term loosely), or even pictures. It’s not that I have a fear of the unknown; I just like to know what I’m up against and how to achieve optimal results. So just imagine how I am with all of the unknowns associated with covid19.

From as early as January and February, when reports of a novel new virus had appeared in China and was starting to spread, N— and I began discussing plans; we’re like that. We made an ATM withdrawal to keep cash on hand and began limiting our outings. Observations of declining stock levels of some foods (frozen waffles, for example) and other items made it clear that something was happening. It just hadn’t happened here. Yet.

Frozen waffles were among the first covid19 casualties at the local super.

By March, we were no longer being social with anyone and decided to not visit the gym. Then the schools closed. First, for a week, then another, then for the year. By then, we’d secured devices for the kids’ remote learning and had a makeshift office set up in the main bedroom’s closet, affectionately dubbed the annex, complete with my own megadesk…err…workspace.

My own take on megadesk. And, no, I don’t have enough coffee. Further, you cannot use my stapler; it’s mine.

So now it’s July, and things are starting to take shape for the 2020-21 school year. By that, I mean everyone from my own superintendent all the way up the President (yeah, that guy) has said schools will be open this fall. Trouble is, guidelines just came out a couple of days ago and have led to more questions than they answer. Things are further muddied when realizing that the Texas Education Agency (the entity releasing those guidelines) are, themselves, quarantined at home and will not return to their offices until January 2021. They, like most other policy makers, are handling things remotely.

But students, custodians, teachers, counselors, administrators, and the rest of the countless cast of characters that make a school function, are expected to report for duty in a few weeks’ time.

And we will. Because that’s what we do: When students have a need, we as professional educators find it in ourselves to do what we need to do.

Are we anxious? Nervous? Scared, even? Probably a mix of those things. Myself, I am all of those things—not so much for myself but what it could mean for my immunocompromised wife and, by extension, the family unit as a whole. We have made tremendous sacrifice these past several months in order to keep our house’s microbiome as unaltered as possible, thereby keeping N— safe. Or safer, anyway.

In Act III, Scene 1 of Hamlet, the title character muses over the matter of death—the ultimate known—making reference to it as “the undiscovered country”:

But that the dread of something after death,

The undiscover’d country from whose bourn

No traveller returns […]

http://shakespeare.mit.edu/hamlet/hamlet.3.1.html

While I am not fearful that I’m going to die (my affairs are more or less in order) when returning to school next month, I acknowledge there is a lot that is unknown or, at best, unclear. Exploration is aided by having the appropriate tools, including a willingness to explore. Hamlet further espouses this when, a few lines down says:

And thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,

And enterprises of great pith and moment

With this regard their currents turn awry,

And lose the name of action

http://shakespeare.mit.edu/hamlet/hamlet.3.1.html

So, come Monday, I’ll be helping the curriculum team with writing lessons for in-person and remote learning to help myself and my colleagues be ready to adapt to the ever-changing situation in which we—and our students and our families and our communities—find ourselves.

It’s what we do: We teach. We mold the present to prepare for a future, even if so much of it is unknown.

Ready? Off we go.

Thanks for reading.

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Da Bears

To say that 2020 has been a stressful year is as extreme of an understatement as can be made. Between the nation’s myriad crises and no adults appearing to be in charge—all mixed with the regular MS-related mishaps—it was spot on that even my watch recognized that I was, am living my stressed life ever.

Social media notwithstanding, the internet offers a wonderful source of solace, thanks to YouTube.

Of the countless accounts or channels or whatever they’ve been branded as of late, is a series from Explore, an entity existing to offer a glimpse into animals from eagles to dogs to kitties to whales to bears.

Before quarantine was a consideration, I spent much of my youth in social isolation given the small size of my town and the even more restrictive location of the “subdivision” (before subdivisions were a thing in this particular suburb). The lack of a driver’s license, coupled with a lack of income—and to say nothing of my own social awkwardness—it was all but guaranteed that every night, including Saturdays, would be spent at home, comforted by the soft glow of the television screen and whatever happened to be broadcast on the paltry few dozen local & cable TV channels. Fortunately, one of those things was Saturday Night Live.

Though I was familiar with earlier sketches and cast members, my own indoctrination in following SNL would come in the heyday of the likes of Dana Carvey, Jan Hooks, Mike Myers, and Dennis Miller; later, Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, David Spade. It was this latter group that brought up the “Bill Swerski’s Superfans” skit. Consequently, like so many other people my age, I cannot make any reference to bears without saying in a heavy, Chicago-ish accent, “da bears.”

A ledge appearing to be a little more than one meter in height creates Brooks Falls on the Brooks River on the peninsula in southern Alaska. The river serves as a connector between Lake Brooks and Nanek Lake, making up a gloriously scenic portion of Katmai National Park & Preserve. Fortunately for those unable to travel to Alaska (such as myself, despite childhood dreams of one day living in the largest state), Explore and the National Parks Service teamed up to offer what I’d consider (in my own inexpert opinion) as the best nature webcam on the internet.

N—stumbled onto this webcam at some point in mid-to-late July of 2019, and the family was instantly hooked.

An often endless array of brown bears fish, frolics, and occasionally fight in the river and falls, accented with a gull here or there, given the park’s location to the coasts of the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. With all that is going on in the world, watching the bears go about their business as they likely have for millennia, oblivious to the concerns of covid19, racial injustice, or the other plagues of modern society is, for lack of a better word—for there really is no better word—relaxing. Pair that up with the endless euphony of the river flowing and cascading over rock, and it is sensory bliss. I have been lulled to sleep by the sounds of nature pumped through 7.1 channels of glorious surround sound on more than one occasion. Catching glimpses of bears being bears in 55″ hi-def through sleepy eyes makes for some remarkably calming dreams, too.

About the only down…er…fall of the cam is that—for reasons obvious to anyone with a remote understanding of geography or stories by Jack London—it doesn’t operate year round. It appears to go live sometime in mid-to-late-June each year and stays up until the river’s copious salmon run out and/or the bears get bored and leave. I think that was around early-Septemberish. Of course, neither bears nor salmon read calendars, so results may vary.

Rest assured, though, if you’re in need of a break from the insanity of the world—or just want some nice, occasionally entertaining or amusing background A/V—then it’s tough to do any better than the Brooks Falls webcam.

Thanks for reading.

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Rest for the Weary

I overslept this weekend—on both Saturday and (even more-so) Sunday. This isn’t entirely out of the ordinary for me since the start of the whole quarantine thing in early-March, but it was rather unusual for the past month or so.

When I finally roused myself out of bed, all I could think was that I needed to rest. A quick pull-up of my TrainingPeaks log for this month confirmed that I’d not taken a rest day since June 5th—nearly a full month. No wonder I’d been so tired.

I’d gone long blocks without rest days in the past, but not since my role at home had shifted to primary caregiver for N— and both kids. Being the sole, “fully functional” adult in the house carries a heavy load, physically, mentally, and emotionally, and all of these can take an equally heavy toll on training. For what it was I was training, though, I really don’t know. Racing is nowhere on my horizon, race cancellations due to covid19 notwithstanding.

A similar question regarding training had been posed to a former riding buddy before kids & autoimmune diseases drove a wedge that between us that living on opposite ends of town and different career spheres could have ever fathomed. Tristan had been posting some smoking fast run & bike splits on Strava, so I asked him what he was training for. His response?

Life.

Yeah, life will do that to you. To me. To us. As Ferris so wisely spouted so many years ago, life moves pretty fast. We do need to stop every now & then to take a look around to see where we are and enjoy what’s going on.

So, I managed to rouse myself early enough this morning to go for a run before breakfast and the rest of the household was up demanding such. It was a short-ish run on relatively flat terrain with no eyes kept on current pace of mile splits—only the occasional glance at heart rate targets to ensure I wasn’t about to drop due to cardiac arrest. I think I did OK.

The rest day or two this weekend turned out to be just what I needed: To take some pressure off of myself to keep on performing at peak-triathlon levels, f0r there are no foreseeable triathlons for the remainder of 2020, nor will there be any individual events of any of those sports, including the Mac Summer Speed Series and Chupacabra; Race Revolutions had cancelled their remaining Xterra races once Xterra Global (wisely) cancelled their world championships.

With no upcoming races, no continued run group due to covid19—but with continued demands on all of my faculties to keep the home life humming along with something resembling normal—I’m just going to keep on keeping on. Something resembling a good rhythm is getting worked out between my & N—’s respective schedules, which, fortunately, includes more writing here. Granted, it’s nothing earth shattering or wildly profound, but it is a good outlet for me to cope with the copious demands on myself, so, in closing, I thank you so much for reading.

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From “Meh” to Marvy

There’s this Nine Inch Nails song that kind of sums up my life fairly well. It’s from the With Teeth album and is adequately titled “Every Day Is Exactly the Same.”

The song itself isn’t terribly great—even less-so by NIN standards and even less-less-so as the follow-up to “Love Is Not Enough” (which is even better live)—but the opening lines are just so spot-on with how things have been for me, even pre-quarantine:

I believe I can see the future

‘Cause I repeat the same routine

It’s given laugh to me and others who find themselves in somewhat similar quandaries, especially where small children are involved,but these past few weeks have been even mire predictable.

Today started out like every other, though without my oversleeping but without going for a run. I simply decided not to. Things went downhill fast following breakfast, with N—’s leg spasms intensifying, leading to my missing my target window of rolling out of the house by 9 AM to ride for a couple of hours. To say I was irked when I finally rolled at 10 would be an understatement.

The first ten or so miles were severely lackluster but got better once I cleared the last major roadway and the house with the dog that chased me for a hundred or so yards. My legs opened up, and so did my thinking; I was in the moment and living and enjoying it immensely, even if I was having to fight a stiff headwind.

After returning home and cleaning up, it was back to “responsible adult” duties, followed by a nap, followed by more caretaker “chores” (for lack of a better word), followed by making dinner, followed by chill time with N—.

Predictable of a day as it is, there’s really not much to complain over. I got to wake up in my own house with my own family. I got to cook (and clean) for them—thrice. I got to ride my bike. I got to nap. I got to spend time with my best friend who also happens to be my wife. Oh, and I got beer, too.

Tomorrow will be somewhat similar, though I’ll mix it up and ride trails instead of roads ahead of picking up groceries via curbside. And then? A nap. Totally gonna need a nap.

Thanks for reading.

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Before I Fall Asleep…

…I wanted to try writing from the iPad. It works, and is obviously far quieter than the MBP’s keyboard, but I’m just not sure. Will continue to play, to explore, to find ways of creating rather than consuming so much media. Whether or not anyone sees this at this point is irrelevant. What matter is dumping the contents of my brain rather than continuing to let thoughts sit and spoil like produce.

Thanks for reading.

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Home, but Not Alone

For quite some time, I’ve been hoping, wanting to write more than the occasional microblog masquerading as a post on some social medium or other. But, alas, it has not come to pass despite my best efforts, best intentions. First, there was the deal to teach creative writing a few years back, where I naïvely imagined having time to write along with the students as they worked on their own creative pieces; with my teaching experience, how could I have been so stupid? Then, there was the purchase of the MacBook Pro on which I now type, thinking that I could write as I lay in bed, prior to falling asleep each night, but that was a big nope—present experience excluded. Then came the migration of my own site to WordPress, thinking that maybe I just needed the right medium, the right tool, so to speak, but that, too, turned out to be a bust. And then came the pandemic, but I more or less knew better, laughing along with nearly nineteen thousand other people at Brooklynite Brandy Jensen’s mid-March musing on would-be writers, myself included:

Only I didn’t really think that I would have the time, for I was certainly not home alone. Sure, I was now able to work from home, but there was still kid management, distance learning for my students, increased tech duties for co-workers (and now students and parents) who needed help navigating uncharted waters, to say nothing of N—’s increasing challenges with MS. But it was fun to imagine that maybe, just maybe, I could find some time here and there to hammer out a few words that could become a blog post. Yet, creeping up on four months of being at home, this is the first real writing I’m doing that goes beyond email or my endless social media refrains to either stay at home or, if you absolutely must go out, to wear a mask. The unfinished drivel I started for an edChat on Twitter I was unable to take part in doesn’t count.

The notion to start on that memoir (of sorts) of N— still burns and begs to get out, as does the tale of the murder of A—’s dad so many Christmases ago, but I doubt myself too much and just don’t know where or how or even if I should start; see: doubt.

So I started here, journaling of sorts. Just writing for the sake of writing to coax the words from my fingers across the keyboard (noisy as it is; good thing N— has her headphones in and doesn’t typically fall asleep until well past midnight) as a means of practice. Not that I expect this practice to make perfect, but the repetition of it all is a good habit to fall into, just as is the habit of regular exercise. Over the past month or so I’ve been able to resume somewhat regular workouts, running a few times a week and cycling (indoors and out) more than that. It’s good for my body, and this is good for my mind—even if it’s not good for the poor eyes who happen upon this.

So, with battery dwindling, and my need for sleep increasing, I’ll retire this bit of BS to leave you, Dear Reader, free to go read something of greater interest and/or import. Semi-pro-tip: Skip the Bolton book.

Thanks for reading.

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Words to Live by

I babble a lot about The Sufferfest. I mean a lot.

But what’s not to love? When going from riding 6,000+ miles every year—with 90% of those miles outdoors to having riding restricted to either a 2-mile round-trip bike commute to/from work or indoor trainer workouts/rides, it’s essential to find a platform that offers what one needs for quality trainer time.

Sure, I’ve tried other platforms, but nothing really racks up to what SUF can offer, including a catchy culture that others have tried to replicate but just fail to measure up.

The “motto” of SUF and its imaginary nation of Sufferlandria is Pain. Misery. Agony; then, as somewhat of a subtext—and if there has been sufficient Suffering—Honor. Victory. Glory.

I know these words well. They’re stitched onto a polo shirt I occasionally wear on Biz Cas Fri (First time the boss asked about it? I told her it was best she didn’t know.), as well as emblazoned across screens at the conclusion of each workout. Heck, during a dark point early on in last year’s Bike MS, I muttered them through gritted teeth and squinted eyes to surge through 116 miles almost like it was nothing.

But it’s that first group of words that’s really been resonating with me as of late—agony in particular.

Pushing through pain is part of what makes endurance athletes “special,” and Nicholle was no exception to this. She’s pushed herself through more physical and psychological pain and misery during her days as a distance runner and triathlete than anyone else I know personally. And this isn’t even counting going through natural childbirth—twice! Yeah, she’s a tough one, but, sometimes, there’s a challenge that’s just too much. Like MS, especially as of late.

Since a nasty mastitis infection a few years ago, Nicholle slowly (then quickly) began to lose the ability to walk, let alone run. There’s been stiffness and spasticity in her legs that cause her to be unable to lift them like “normal people” do. Walking was relegated to an awkward hip swinging motion thing where physics more or less forced her legs to move in front of her; balance was handled by a hand-me-down walker. Lately, though, even that awkward walk has been reduced to bracing herself on a walker (still, albeit a new one) and force-dragging her toes across the floor. It is, in a word, agonizing. Not only for her to experience (her cries of pain and frustration over inability to move so simply) but also to witness.

To see, to hear such literal suffering goes well beyond anything I’ve put myself through on a bike or a run or anywhere, really—and I’ve had some pretty horrendous crashes. There literally is nothing else that this can be compared to. After watching this day after day for months, years, all I can think of is that it must be like her nerves are on fire. Her, my wife, who went through natural childbirth not once but twice, cannot compare the pain she experiences daily, hourly, minutely, if that’s even a word. But no matter.

The human body makes countless gestures over the course of even a minute, and most of us do not give any of them a second thought. What it takes to stand up from a seated position. To walk across a room. To raise a glass of water to our lips. To give or receive a hug without any regard for displeasure or discomfort. But MS has changed all of that.

Despite having lived with Nicholle for ten years now—MS for nine—I still find myself forgetting just how agonizing it can be for her to do so many things. Most days, she just grits her teeth and digs deep to push through. But there are days when she can dig no more, so it’s up to me to pick up the shovel and dig for her. Sure, it raises challenges for me to focus on any one thing for any extended amount of time, and sure, it gets irritating—it’s taken me over a month to write this post! But I made a promise to love and take care of her until death do us part. And it is through all of my own selfish examples of pain and misery and agony and helping her out that I achieve honor and victory and glory.

Thanks for reading.

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Suf

Grunter von Agony is an absolute tool.

Sir David McQuillen, however, is the opposite; he is a saint.

For any in the know, the former requires no explanation, while the latter could stand for a bit of elaboration, especially now, so near the end of this year’s Tour of Sufferlandria. Permit me to explain.

Since 2010 or 11, I’ve been an ardent fan and supporter of the cycling training platform known as The Sufferfest. OK, for transparency’s sake, I did lapse for a couple of years and switched to a different platform, but I’ve been back on board again for about a year now, and things have really taken off. The offerings of workouts and features have exploded exponentially from the early days of workouts purchased and downloaded one at a time. Yet now, as then, the global network of those running the show prove themselves to be committed to more than just making one suffer (and eventually stronger) on a bike.

This afternoon’s stage of the Tour of Sufferlandria called for two tool-themed workouts: The Toolshed and 14 Vise Grips—though I’m certain I counted fifteen—both of which I’ve done prior to today. Unlike before today, though, I ran a video in the background, with just the app’s mini player overlayed in the foreground—again, The Sufferfest has grown phenomenally over the years. The video of choice was the HBO documentary, Marathon: The Patriot’s Day Bombing, providing the most emotional rollercoaster I could have chosen for more than just the obvious reasons.

Running the Boston Marathon is every runner’s dream—even the less-than-serious ones, such as myself; a common mantra of mine (after consistently finishing in the top ten of my age group or even overall) was, “gee, imagine if I would have trained.” Even when I did train, though, such as in 2008, when I ran my PR for a full marathon (3:22:42), I was still seven minutes and change short of having a the bare minimum qualifying time to run Boston. Still, running Boston remained a dream and one that I would toy with trying to qualify again and again. And then the bombing happened.

I was at work, eating lunch, when I saw the pop-up from some news app saying there had been two bombings at the finish line in Boston. I remember texting my wife—seven-ish weeks pregnant with what we thought would be our second child—to tell her, but she seemed uninterested; work for her was too stressful, and she was still angry with me for having agreed to coach the school swim team for one more year. So I read, and I wept. Later in the afternoon, I found myself on Facebook as many and many more of us were finding ourselves in 2013. Either by going directly to their page or having something from them pop up in my newsfeed, a communiqué from The Sufferfest stood out. I do not recall the exact wording, but, in the wake of the hours-old bombings in Boston, it struck a cacaphonous chord with me, so I made a comment or sent an email or somehow reached out to them that went something along the lines of this:

The ad and its wording of pain and suffering are ill-timed with what has recently happened in Boston. Runners, triathletes, and people worldwide are hurting right now; please take the ad (or wallpaper or whatever it was) down.

I didn’t expect much of anything to happen. After all, this was The Sufferfest, and pain, misery, and agony are literally part of their motto and marketing schtick. But within a matter of minutes, I had a reply from the owner of the entity, David McQuillen essentially apologizing and saying the offending offering had been removed. 

Amazed is about the only way I can describe how I felt, other than relieved, thinking that this one little bit from this one, somewhat obscure company would do something to relieve the pain being experienced by athletes and others who’d never laced up a pair of running shoes let alone traversed any distance farther than their car to their couch. But I was amazed, and I was impressed, and I remain impressed with how in-tune with the ebb and flow of the endurance world that Mr. McQuillen is, as well as how hard he and his team works to produce the best product for their clients. 

In the years that have lapsed since April 2013, my own health and fitness have lapsed, though they have naught to do with my own aging and more to do with the health of others for whom I love and care. These are circumstances beyond my control, so I have, to a certain degree and in the words of Thoreau and Disney songs alike, simply let go, let go. But what I haven’t let go is my drive to push and punish myself on a bike. Sure, it’s a lot more challenging to get out these days, what with two small children, my wife’s declining health due to complications from multiple sclerosis, and all, so I’ve embraced the suck that used to be riding an indoor trainer, for it’s now far-less sucky with the improvements made to both the trainers themselves and the technology that enhances the indoor riding experience. 

The Sufferfest has proven itself to be more than just a product to enhance the indoor cycling and training experience. They have fashioned themselves as a community—nay, a family—that brings those of us who wish to work ourselves into the best physical and mental versions of possible in spite (or in consideration) of all that life throws at us. I still have the half-dozen or so videos I purchased from them years back and will continue my annual subscription as long as I can manage to find some time to ride and rise above it all. 

Watching Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing was something I’d wanted to do for a long while but something I’d put off, as I knew of the emotional toll it would take on me. While I was thousands of miles away from the explosions that shook Beantown, I felt and feel for any of those impacted by its shockwaves and shrapnel, even today, nearly seven years since. Watching the video as background during today’s Stage 8 of the Tour of Sufferlandria nearly made me fall off my bike, weeping for those in who were there. But it also reminded me of the understanding, of the generosity (for lack of a better term) of David McQuillen and the team of everyone at The Sufferfest.

Even that tool, Grunter von Agony.

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To Have and to Hold

I do not have MS, but MS has me.

The above is somewhat of a twist on the usual adage uttered by those impacted by this absolute asshole of a disease.

For those unfamiliar with it, MS stands for multiple sclerosis. There are a few different types of the disease, but they all boil down to a person’s immune system attacking its central nervous system, thereby short circuiting a good chunk of what the brain tells the body to do. It’s like the frayed charging cable for your smartphone: Sometimes you can jiggle it juuust right to get the wires to make contact and charge the phone (what it’s supposed to do) but most of the time it just sits there, the juice lost somewhere in a bad connection.

And sometimes it fights back, like with my wife’s legs.

When we met, N— was a triathlete and phenom at running 10k & half marathon distances. Our first dates included a couple of long-ish runs around lakes or area running trails. The proposal came the evening after we participated in a relay marathon. And the wedding? That was in the middle of the 2009 Las Vegas Half Marathon, where we jetted up to LV the day before, ran, got hitched, and jetted back to be at our respective jobs the next day without telling a soul for two weeks. And after that, we ran and biked and swam and had almost enough adventures to last a lifetime—even after she was diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS in early 2011, roughly a year after we married.

Explaining how MS and its symptoms work can be complicated, so I use an analogy of sorts involving tides at the beach. We know that when the tide comes in, the water level is up and that all kinds of junk can wash in with it. Jellyfish, seaweed, and anything else in the ocean. When the tide goes back out, some of that junk remains on the beach, effectively destroying what was a pristine stretch of sand. Relapsing-remitting (RR) MS—probably the most common form of the disease—works in that similar fashion: Tide comes in, symptoms flare, tide goes out, everything’s more or less back to normal. But other forms of the disease—the progressive forms—are more devastating. Tide goes in, symptoms flare, water level stays put; that’s the new normal. Then the tide comes in again, symptoms flare, water stays put; that’s the new-new normal. Repeat.

That I know of, there are just two progressive: Primary and secondary. Primary is the most aggressive form of the disease with flares in symptom activity occurring several times over a relatively short period of time, like a year Secondary progressive is less frequent in flare-ups; N—’s not had a serious flare-up in probably three years. But it was a big one exacerbated by an infection she picked up twelve or so months after the birth of our second child. It literally crippled her.

Prior to that infection, N— could still walk and get about OK on her own. But once it hit and her fever spiked, she was paralyzed. As the fever subsided, the paralysis abated but left a scar. First, she could walk with a cane; then, hobble with a walker; now, she’s in a wheelchair with immense, almost constant pain in her legs. This pain is oftentimes accompanied by spasms in her legs, uncontrollable twitching that pays no mind to where she is or what she’s doing: Sitting, sleeping, and so on.

N— likens her legs to those of a Barbie doll: They’re stiff and don’t bend. But, as her husband and caretaker who transfers her in and out of bed, wheelchairs, toilet, and elsewhere, I find them more like a firehose. Sure, her legs are tough to bend and move, like a Barbie doll’s, but when a spasm hits—and they do and at always the most inconvenient or inopportune moments—her legs fight back with such strength and ferocity that any efforts at bending or adjusting are unravelled in an instant with the need to wait for the spasm to pass before starting over again.

To say this is frustrating (for me and even more-so for her) is a serious understatement.

N— is my second wife. That first marriage disintegrated in a horrifyingly dramatic fashion over several months, but it taught me a lot what it takes for a marriage to be successful: reciprocity—give and take. And, as N— and I eloped, I thought seriously about the vows a couple takes when they wed:

I take you to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death separates us.

Folks whose own marriages have fallen apart have blamed something or other on their spouse, or something that happened involving their spouse, to which they quip that “they didn’t sign up for.”

But, yeah, they did.

Those vows are kind of all-encompassing, covering SO much territory—all the bases so to speak. So when N— was diagnosed with this disease, we learned more about it (we were both somewhat familiar with the basics, both of us having done charity bike rides for MS) and how, as a couple, we could work with and for each other as our life together would be changed and challenged in ways most folk (thankfully) would never be able to comprehend.

This isn’t to say it’s been easy. Despite our respective schooling and analytic ways of looking at practically everything (we put more research into running strollers than we did for daycare for the first kid), we still make a lot of boneheaded decisions when it comes to our relationship. Each can take the other for granted or not speak in the right tone or do any number of other things that cause additional discord not already impacted by the MS factor. But we’re still committed to one another.

Last December marked ten years since we ran through the streets of Las Vegas shouting, “Bride & groom, coming through!” The original plan was to go back to Vegas to renew our vows, this time inviting our families to bear witness. Life, however, had other plans, though we still renewed our vows and invited family and friends. The ceremony was held in a side venue at our favorite coffee shop, and, while N— was able to stand for the ceremony, she did so with the support of a walker; her dad had pushed her wheelchair down some ramps built by the coffee shop owner just for the occasion and then the aisle to get her to the alter. Sure, it might not sound idyllic for most, but, for us, it was perfect, just like the first one.

A month later, there are still spasms in N—’s legs, and there are spasms in our relationship that cause us to have to stop and wait for things to settle down before we can come up with a plan, let alone move on and execute that plan.

For me, I continue to reflect on previous mistakes, as well as those vows. I cannot hold N— the same way I used to—not physically, anyway. There’s a lot I have to improve upon as a husband, a father, a human being. But I have a pretty good guide through those vows. And I’ve a pretty good anchor to what’s important in the form of N— herself.

While I don’t “have” her like we have most things in life, I’m glad I have her as a part of mine. And that I will cherish and hold onto long after death separates us.