Living our Full Moments: A Run on the C&O Canal

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April 26, 2015

This weekend, like most weekends during the past three years, I was busy with activities with different friends in our exercise group.  The once six women bootcamp group four years ago has grown into more than fifty women friends plus some of their spouses now.  We have different exercise and social functions, with the most recent cooking event with chef Amy Riolo, a smart chef and expert in Mediterranean cooking.  

Yesterday, some of us, Serrin, Julia, Howard and I rode 17 miles for an event called Bike to End Hunger in Calvert County.  It was an easy ride with a stop at a winery.  Fortunately, none of us is a serious wine drinker so we did not take advantage of many of the free wine samplings and were able to continue our journey in single file on the road back to the finish line, at a church in Calvert County.  Next week, many of us will participate in a longer race called “Tour de Cookies,” a forty-mile ride for the Tree House Project, to raise funds for abused and neglected children in Montgomery County, Maryland.  Howard will design a 25 mile ride for our group to make sure we can walk without soreness at the end of the day.  We probably will manage to eat as many cookies as those riding 40 miles, even when we try to take his shortcut!

This morning, our running group, reduced to the same team who biked yesterday, ran our usual 5 miles on the C&O canal.  Spring has finally arrived, although it was in the forties degrees this morning.  I took photos of Blue Bells and other wild flowers on the canal for you to witness spring in our area.  

Almost forty years ago, on April 29, my family left Vietnam in such abrupt manner, to avoid living under the communist regime.  The week before I left was chaotic, as my parents could sense a dark future about to come.  All schools were closed as the fighting between South Vietnamese troops and the communists intensified.  We were huddling under our stairs on and off at night as the sounds of gunfire, grenades and mortar seemed to get louder.  My mom was preparing for each of her six children a backpack in case of evacuation.  She and my father frantically looked to no avail, for a way out of the country.  They wanted all of us to be together, and it was difficult to find eight seats on one of the evacuation planes.  We either lived or died together, they had decided then. 

Today, I was grateful to be running on the C&O canal with my friends.  My legs were still sore from the ride the day before.  I went to a Capital Women’s Care Board members’ dinner Friday night before driving down to Chesapeake Beach for the End Hunger ride on Saturday morning.  A psychologist, wife of one of my colleagues, was talking to me about my experience with the three marathons.  She was wondering why I chose to run a marathon.

“I had always hated to run.” I told her “ so I forced myself to do a marathon to see if I could overcome this dislike for running.”

“ Where did you come from? Are you an immigrant?”  She asked me. 

After I admitted being a Vietnamese refugee forty years ago, the psychologist went on to tell me she had already guessed I was an immigrant who survived some kind of hardship and, for the rest of my life, I had become so determined to overcome any challenge.

She was right.  Like someone who was given a “second chance,” whether it was survival from a serious illness, a long prison sentence, or escape from a horrendous accident, I do not take my moments for granted.  As my friends Serrin and Howard were running smoothly on the canal, I stopped and took photos of different flowers and plants.  I turned my head to see the reflection of the trees in the water.  I listened to the water rustling through the big rocks in the Potomac River.  How do I know if I will be back here next Sunday for another run with my friends?  

On the way to the coffee house after the run, I listened to the news on NPR.  The death toll from the earthquake yesterday in Nepal has reached above 2200, with 18 more deaths so far confirmed from the avalanche on Mount Everest.  All the climbers who survived the event on Mt Everest are now trapped in their day camps on the mountain. 

My friend Ann told me last week how, in Bhutan, people think about death at least 4 or 5 times a day.  This constant reminder of death allows them to live a fuller life.  They live with a purpose, as they know their life can end anytime.  I jokingly told Ann maybe I live like a Bhutan citizen, by reading the newspaper obituary column daily.  Death reminds me to live fully.  It reminds me to get out from the house, no matter how beautiful and comfortable our home is, to explore the world around me.  As I pass by so many neighborhoods with enormous mansions in our area, I rarely see anybody in front of their yard or their beautiful landscaped gardens.  I hope they are walking on the canal or hiking on some mountains somewhere.  I hope they are basking in the sun along the Chesapeake bay, or walking leisurely through a farmer’s market.  It might be easier and safer to stay in our home theater or our game room or computer room, but we would miss so much from this world full of wonders.  

The weather report had it that it would rain today, but I am looking at a blue sky full of white clouds.  The green of spring on the canal this morning and in our neighborhood is astonishing.  I hope, like me, you will have the chance to be in the sun today.  I am grateful not to be under a staircase avoiding the falling mortars, or in Nepal right now recovering from a horrendous earthquake.  I am grateful for my moments today.