A Trip to Africa

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What can I say about a dream come true?  Shall I say that I spent most of my life believing my dreams wouldn’t be fulfilled?  I lived much of my early years longing for the things that others had.  The thing about my longings is that it kept me out of the loop. There’s an unspoken presumption that it was beyond my reach. Growing up I heard about the trips to Florida my classmates took.  I longed to audition for a traveling high school production of Godspell, but had to work, and couldn’t afford to take time off, let alone pay for a ticket to California.  I felt left out.  Moving to New York in the early 80’s, there were apartments for sale at accessible prices. But for me, getting my hands on $200 was as elusive as paying for a $20,000 apartment.   It took years to learn that there were ways to have what I once thought as impossible.  I learned that by working hard in psychotherapy. And, throughout the years I’ve realized a few of my dreams, my own private practice, running the NYC Marathon at 56, and most recently, going on Safari in Africa.

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It was a month ago Larry and I were in East Africa.  It truly was a dream come true.  I first had the idea when my mother mentioned wanting to go to Africa when I was a child. In my mind, we would go together. But through the years it became apparent she was not one who could travel easily.  I, on the other hand, started traveling in college. First studying art history in Paris, and visiting a few other European cities.  Then doing what I could to go on local road trips, and visit other countries.  But one of my bucket list trips had yet to be realized.

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A little over ten years ago I created the Africa fund.  This was separate from a vacation fund, or any other savings account I had.  I had thought I’d go for my 50th birthday, but I hadn’t saved enough to do anything but backpack, and I’m really no camper.  So, I aimed for my 60thbirthday.  When my mother died this year, I thought, “Why wait? We only live once. ”   And, so, I started planning the trip.  We chose Micato Safaris, which turned out to provide an amazing adventure.  They designed special experiences throughout.  Elephants are my favorite animal, and they made sure my time with Elephants surpassed any and all expectations.

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We started out in Kenya. We went to the Nairobi National Park. It was our first safari experience. There is a unique energy trying to visually locate animals in their natural habitat.  Giraffes can be easier to spot based on their height, but most of the animals blend in so beautifully that it was not as easy to spot them as I would have imagined.  Later we went to a Giraffe sanctuary.  They save endangered giraffes, and raise them until they can go back into the wild.  We got to feed these beautiful creatures with their purple, foot long tongues, and expressive eyes.  Later we visited the  Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which is an orphanage for baby elephants.  They ran past us in the sweet line as they made their way into their nightly beds.  They are rescued elephants, who are raised for their first few years, then introduced back into the wild, with their dedicated foster parents.

 

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The next day we flew to Tanzania for the Tanzania Spectacular tour.  It is aptly named.  We visited Tarangire, where we stayed in luxurious treetop cabins.  From there we went to the Ngorongoro Crater. It is like nothing else in that it attracts all the wildlife since there is a good supply of water.  From there we drove to the Serengeti.  The Serengeti is vast and varied.  There we were able to see so much.  And, though I was enamored by all the animals we saw, I have to say, I loved meeting and speaking to everyone we encountered.  When our tour ended in Tanzania Larry and I went to Zambia to enjoy the beauty and splendor of Victoria Falls.  While there, we went on a motor boat on the Zambezi to The Elephant Cafe, a restaurant that serves local cuisine after feeding and petting the rescued elephants they care for. It was an outstanding experience, from the crocodiles and hippos by the river, to a five star meal after communing with the gentle giants.

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Each moment of each day was full and satisfying.  I felt transformed.  Not only was I able to go somewhere I had only dreamed of, but I was able to enjoy all the trip had to offer.  I don’t know how it’s changed me.  Only time will tell.

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One Step in Front of the Other

 

 

-9bcc6173bfec0f98.JPGWhen I was 10 years old I was allowed to walk on Haddonfield-Berlin Road, crossing highways entrances and exits to go to The Woodcrest Shopping Center. For a short time they had The Jerry Lewis Movie Theater, and I could get in for 50 cents, the amount of my allowances after chores. Or, I would go to W.T. Grant’s, deemed a twenty-five cent department store, but more of a five and dime. that sold colorful birds, toys, clothes, plastic jewelry, and featured a lunch counter. I was much too shy to go to the counter alone. But I loved getting lost in the aisles ending up with some sort of sweet. There was also Crest Lanes where I could bowl. I loved the crack of the pins being hit, and the overhead light of the score pad. In the other direction I would walk to The Haddontown Swim Club. It was lovely after a hot August walk to reach the pool and jump in to the cold splash of wet relief. These were some of my first destination walks.

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I would get upset that my mom didn’t drive me places, but with four children and a house to run, driving me to and from a destination that was just over a mile away, was not to be. What upset me then, actually provided me with a pleasure I’ve enjoyed throughout my life. I’ve lived in Manhattan for over 35 years, and a destination walk remains one of my favorite activities.

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Some of my best visits with friends have been walking to work with them, or going to a movie theater in another neighborhood. Films may not be fifty cents anymore, but the destination is still as satisfying. I love going to various farmer’s markets, or to a specialty stationary store. I walk to museums, or parks. Last week I took the subway just to walk in parks in other parts of the city. The destination is more often than not, motivation, but the walk is the true treat.

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Although I love city walks, and will make sure I go on foot when I visit other cities, walking in the woods, or taking a hike is equally as pleasurable. In these hectic times, walking has been wonderful for stress, it’s been reliable transportation, it’s been an education, and it’s been a gift.

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What I’m Not

 

 

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We just took a trip to a resort in Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic. It was beautiful. The weather was warm and clear, and everyone was friendly. I wanted to enjoy this vacation. Last year was hard and I was looking forward to some R&R.   But the food, though plentiful, went from bland to awful.   The amenities promised were elusive or not as advertised.   The other travelers seemed to be content, but I couldn’t help notice the missing details, the absence of my desired holiday away. I would go for a run on the beach, grateful for the easy breeze, and the laps of the ocean. Yet, I kept thinking of all the things I didn’t like about being there. I was angry at myself for booking and paying hard-earned money for this trip. I kept playing back other vacations I should have taken. I was blaming myself for not being able to let it go. Why couldn’t I simply enjoy what I had. Why was I so upset? Why couldn’t I be a more spiritual being? There are so many who are scared for their families and loved ones. There are those dealing with death, health challenges, immigration issues. And, I am feeling sorry for myself for not enjoying the beautiful resort I was in. What kind of person am I? And, the self-criticism was relentless. I am not grateful. I am not selfless. I am not worthy.

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This is not a new theme for me. I have a long history of being hard on myself. I understand that it’s not productive, yet I don’t seem to stop. In fact with the time and space on vacation, I seemed to swim a little in the outdoor pool and swam constantly in a state of condemnation. As the week continued, I’d have moments of peace, thinking that this will be a really funny story with some distance. And there were other times when the inner monologue chattered on.

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I am not a published book author, I’m not a size 8. I’m not a home owner. I’m not a multi-millionaire. I’m not a doctor. I’m not organized. I’m not young. I’m not coordinated.” The list could easily continue. I am clearly aware of what I’m not. In fact, sometimes my mind is so crowded with what I’m not, there’s no room for what I am.

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What I am is a mother and a wife. I’m happy with my work. I have a private practice and work with amazing individuals. I’m a friend. I’m a sister and a daughter. I am a theater and arts lover. I’m a subscriber to theater companies and a member to a number of varied museums. I’m a walker. I love walking the city. I’m a Manhattanite. I’m funny at times, and critical at other times, I’m a foodie. Life is good. But it won’t always be good. Sometimes a vacation turns out to be a vacation from what I love. And being away gives me greater appreciation of what I have.

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So I’m thinking this vacation was about taking vacations every day from self-criticism. It taught me to spend less mind-space on what I’m not, and celebrate more on who I am. Maybe this bad vacation can have a good outcome.

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If nothing else, I’m blogging again. So, yeah, I’m a blogger, too.

Letting Go in ’16

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What a concept! Letting go has been used as a catch phrase describing a way of not feeling what we don’t want. I am not amused when I make a complaint and I’m told, “just let it go.” If I could have let it go I wouldn’t be complaining in the first place. But 2016 feels like a good time for me to let things go. Partly because I haven’t liked what I’ve felt, but mostly because what I have previously over-enjoyed isn’t serving me right now.

 

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I usually make lots of plans, however, my plan this year is to plan less. I’m letting go of being too busy. It means more Yes time to do less, and more “No”s in the scheduling category.

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I feel relieved with this plan. In the past I would get overwhelmed with all that I had to do. I am smiling as I write this because I’m looking forward to less. And in this case less is more; more freedom, more ease, more inner peace.

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I don’t imagine living a less fulfilling life. In fact I image I will be more fulfilled doing less. But New York City still offers a lot. I will try to relax as I choose plays more judicially, or pick what art exhibits I’ll see. I go to the opera and dance performances less, so that feels easier. Movies may be difficult to decide on, but I’m up for the challenge. I will be reading less based on recommendations and more on what moves me at any given time. I’ve been fortunate to have gone to a lot of parties and events over the years, and am happy to slow down significantly. I’m just not in the mood right now. I still look forward to going to work, walking, running, and spending time with my family. And I’m always up for a good laugh.

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It will be interesting what I end up doing or not doing, as the case may be. Yet, letting go does not feel like an imperative at this juncture, it feels natural, as if I made it to this point and letting go is what’s next.

The Last Word on The Marathon

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So, I’ve been writing a lot about planning on running the marathon, training for the marathon and running the NY Marathon. Not only was the run a personal endeavor, but having written about it, it became a shared event. I secretly think it was self-centered of me to do this, and perhaps even more so in writing about it, but it’s a risk I’m taking. That said, I do want to complete this cycle, so I’m writing what I believe will be my final chapter on this subject. As selfish as I was in working towards and running the marathon, I have been acutely aware of how kind-hearted and generous my friends and family have been.

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In fact, more than anything else I’ve gained from my experience running the TCS 2015 New York City Marathon is that I’ve gained an appreciation for all the good will out there. Even though I trained for the marathon, I’m not a serious runner. I started running five years ago, treading lightly to avoid extra knee pain. I’ve always loved walking but never in my dreams did I think I could run. Nonetheless going at my very slow pace, I could maintain a runners gait. After a couple of years running from time to time for a couple of miles or so, I thought I’d enter a race. I didn’t care about my time, and resented those who kept encouraging me to pick up my pace. I am usually a private person, so I was uncertain about the yelling that took place. “You can do this!” “Go, go go!”

Instead I put on my head phones and finished the race noticing people 10 years older pass me by. I didn’t check my time, and was happy to have done it on my own terms. From there I entered other races. I still had a “leave me alone” attitude, but I was proud to be in the races, increasing my distances. For my first half marathon, which was the More Half, I liked that there was a mix of women all ages, shapes, ethnicities and sizes. I felt like my unique running style was perfectly suited for me and for the event.

A friend said if I could do a half marathon I could do a whole marathon. But I thought getting through half a marathon was all I would ever be able to do. I loved going to First Avenue year after year to cheer the runners on the first Sunday of November. I always cried because I was moved by their determination and stamina. But they were runners. I was not. I contemplated walking the marathon. And when I thought of that it seemed doable. At some point I decided I will try to run the marathon. Maybe not completely, but as best as I can. My friend Jeannette was very encouraging. She had gotten into the marathon and was committed to her training. Zena, another friend who lived in Chicago until recently, was a complete champion of my running. She gave me a half-marathon necklace to commemorate my first half. She gave me advice about running. And when she was in New York she ran a race at my pace even though she is twice as fast.

Then there were my friends who would compliment me. I didn’t always take in the comments, replying, “Well, I’m really slow.” But people were kind. When I did announce that I was going to do the marathon, I got so many encouraging and enthusiastic comments. In the past I might have felt that I was now obligated to run because I said I would. And, what would people think? But instead I felt grateful. I was happy reading comments from friends and family. I felt supported.

And, as I thought about it, I knew if I showed up I would complete the marathon. I just had to show up. So, Sunday morning I got up early, got dressed took the subway to the Staten Island Ferry, took the Ferry and a bus to the Verrazano Bridge, where I would start the race. It was unseasonably warm. For me the weather was perfect. I prefer to be warm rather than cold. As a slow runner I don’t get as sweaty as those at faster paces.

I was in the last group of runners. Many were running for the first time, so there was a friendly yet nervous energy in the air. I had my playlist on. Fabulous music for 10 hours created by Larry. The gun went off and I started at the pace I kept throughout the race. When I was in pain I walked. I only stopped to use the porta-potties. I drank the Gatorade. I like luxury bathrooms and I don’t like energy drinks, but that was a small price to pay to do this race.

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What was most amazing to me were the crowds of onlookers. I painted my name on my shirt. I knew I needed encouragement to do this run. Partyers would chant, “JANET, JANET.” I would hear my name from balconies, from strangers, from tourists and cops. It kept me going step after step. At mile 15 I was sure it was mile 16, and felt deflated for that mile. But then came mile 16 and I knew I could do 10 more. After 16 I was met by friends, first Zena and Seth, with an awesome sign as I entered Manhattan from the Queensboro Bridge, one of five. Then later Larry and Emma with our dog Lucy. They were with our other friends we met through Lucy, Just down the street stood more friends with another sign and a banana. From there I was met by many strangers wishing me and the other runners well. It was amazing energy.

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In some ways the psychological training was more significant than the physical training. I had to get out of my own way. I had to learn to be less judgmental, at least for the duration of the race. I had to let in others’ enthusiasm. I had to appreciate the love shared. Don’t get me wrong, I had my moments. At two separate times I thought, “Fuck You,” when marathoners who wore tee shirts stating all the marathons they had run were condescending to me, a mere novice. They were nice in that fake way that lets me know they have “Experience.” But those moments were fleeting. Mostly I felt and continue to feel grateful.

Even though I ran this race for me because I wanted to do it, a bucket list item, everyone was so amazing. And that is what kept me going. I am surprised at myself for enjoying such a positive experience. I can latch onto the gaps in life complaining about what I don’t like. Yet for one day, one very long race from morning until night, I was smiling. A true reflection of all that was given with love and generosity. It brought out the best of New York City and the best in me. So thank you. I am now a proud New York Marathoner.

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