It’s Not Your Fault

“Sorry guys, I gotta go and see about a girl.” – – Robin Williams in “Good Will Hunting”


The above quote is from the character Sean Maguire as portrayed by Robin Williams in the aforementioned movie.  In the scene, Sean/Robin is explaining to Will Hunting why he doesn’t regret missing the historic game six of the 1975 world series won by the Boston Red Sox.  Williams’ character had a ticket to the game, but when he saw the woman who was to become his wife sitting across the bar he was at,  he pushed his ticket across the table at his friends and told them he had other plans.  As a result, Sean had a marriage of 18 years, including the last two spent taking care of his terminally ill spouse.  Still he regretted nothing, and certainly not meeting his wife in lieu of a baseball game, even through the pain he’s feeling two years after her death.  I have a similar avenue I hope to never regret.  There are a number of people I’d like to tell very simply how I feel about them . . . hopefully shortly after re-enacting yet another scene from this film, the one at the end where Sean tells his young client Will, “it’s not your fault.”

I’ve at times felt an intense sadness over the last few weeks due to the loss of someone I’ve never met.  I don’t cry easily, but I have to confess that I felt even more grief when I found out that Robin Williams had completed alcohol treatment right here in Minnesota about a month ago.  Then came some tears.  I suspect part of my sadness comes from that kinship, one owing to my own bouts with alcoholism and depression.  Depression is a topic I intend to write more on at a later date, a topic I think is sadly misunderstood by the masses.  Robin knew it all too well, likely along with the loneliness and sense of separation that can accompany one even in a crowd.  I’ve seen more references to “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Mork & Mindy” on Facebook in the last few hours than I can count, a movie and tv series that he indeed ought to be remembered fondly for.  Mine are more for the many, many poignant moments in “Good Will Hunting,”  and for a very beautiful, and simplified rendering of the story of the Fisher King in a movie of the same name.  Briefly, the story is of a young king who leaves home in search of the Holy Grail, only to come back a discouraged old man dejectedly accepting that he would never find his treasure.  He then sits at his throne and tells a passing fool, “bring me some water .. . I’m thirsty.”  As the fool pours water into the king’s goblet, it magically transforms into the Holy Grail.  The astonished king asks the fool, “How did you know I’ve been looking for this my entire life?”  The fool smiles simply and replies, “I didn’t.  I just know you said you were thirsty, you asked me for a drink, and so I gave you one.”  How sad that Mr. Williams wasn’t able to get his own cup filled.

I have to say that I have a fantasy of sorts, in hope of averting the possible regret I may be setting myself up for.  There are a few people I work with, certainly a few others in my outside life, that I have to fight the compulsion to just walk up to and hug and say “I just wanted to remind you that you make my day so often, and I love you.”  I also know a few in both places who are sometimes down, maybe sometimes feeling trapped in their lives, or maybe just a little lost and confused as we all are from time to time.  That’s where the very moving “it’s not your fault” scene comes into play for me.  Somebody on Facebook posted that scene, and as I watched it, I was moved to tears in seconds.  What a different world it would be if even a few of us took the time to express such sentiment to someone we care about, even once.  I would like to be one of those few.

The passing of yet another celluloid image usually brings about a notification of mortality in me at best, sometimes more, but not often.  Robin Williams death, particularly learning of it being suicide, brought instant grief.  I get so irritated when I see those idiotic Facebook posts that say that “depression is a result of staying strong for too long” or that it’s because a person is not choosing to be happy.  As a lifelong dysthymic, I can tell you for certain that it’s a tad more complicated than that.  The Williams with the constantly running motor that we all saw on various talk shows always struck me as an over reaction to depression.  Mr. Williams likely had some very deeply rooted issues that still ruled his life.  Most of us do, it’s just to varying degrees.  Whatever pushed him over the edge no one may ever truly know,  but even with his last breath he gave the world a gift, telling us all basically to cherish life.  A life he apparently was no longer willing to try and access.  This was his prerogative.  While those left behind don’t like it,  every person has the right to commit suicide if they so wish.  As a writer on A Course In Miracles named Hugh Prather used to say, “all death is suicide.”  Some of them are just quite sudden, shocking, and every bit as sad as the slower versions. I wish you the peace you sought on earth, Mr. Williams,  I wish all of the joy you gave to millions to be visited on you.  And I wish your next incarnation, whatever it may be as, to be one filled with your inner longings much more within your reach than in this past one.  Thank you for all that you gave me.  I promise to try and pay it forward.

I’m setting myself up for a very politically incorrect task.   One I don’t even know if I have the courage for.  I often try to talk myself into believing that  my desire to grab onto you and hug you and you tell you that I love you is fleeting and happens only when the Robin Williamses of the world die, but it’s just not so.  It’s with me constantly, and sometimes not saying it makes me ache.  There are at least a dozen of you, and in truth there are many more.  Some of you have touched me deeply with a single word that changed my life, some of you I’ve had long, long conversations with and felt refreshed and enlightened as a result.  Some of you have afforded me the absolute honor and privilege of being your confidant, and have trusted me with some of your secrets, and most importantly have had the courage to show your vulnerability and cry in front of me.  For this you may think you lean on me too much,  in truth, you have given me an honor I can’t possibly describe.  Still, it’s not my job to save the world.  Or is it?  It is my job to love, and isn’t that the same thing?  As I said earlier, I don’t know if I’ll ever have the courage to make my fantasy a reality, partly out of fear that if you’re a woman you may think I’m hitting on you, partly if you’re man that it may bring to the surface a homophobic fear or two.  Mostly I think it’s just my own fear of breaking down a barrier that I’ve wanted to for so long. as if to say good-bye to an old, protective friend.  Here’s to my fantasy coming true. I will start right now and if you’re reading this you know who you are.  I love you.  And whatever your burden may be, it’s not your fault.





“If you don’t have answers to your problems after a four hour run, you ain’t getting them.” – – Christopher McDougall in “Born To Run”


I’m needing to conduct a class tomorrow on one of the main products sold by the company I work for,  so this weekend I’ve been holed up for the most part, studying as I did most of last semester whenever an exam was looming large.  Translation:  rather than cracking open any material, I’ve spent most of my time sitting around and fretting about it.  To a degree, I’m stuck.  I know the material as I work with it on a daily basis.  I have no problem with being in front of a group of 15 people or more, as I love performing, and the more the merrier.  My concerns are twofold.  1) I’m going to be presenting in front of one of my supervisors, and 2) I’m going to be presenting in front of one of my supervisors.  Though it’s only a practice run and I’m likely going to be getting excellent feedback that I in fact need, I’m still nervous. So now, at 4:01 in the afternoon the plan is to give my material a quick run-through before I actually go out and attempt a ten-miler (after the sun goes down a bit more) and during the time I’m doing so enlist the assistance of any angels, faeries, kindred spirits, ascended masters, mosquitoes, wookies, tazmanian devils, anyone or anything who will listen.  I am officially stuck.  My outline is complete, and with some spontaneous “tweaking” done over the weekend I think it’s a good plan.  After all is said, done, and written, I still need to allow for flexibility dependent on how engaged the class is going to be, or more importantly, how engaged I can cause them to be.  In one of the guideline points my supervisor wrote out for me, she said “Get creative here, Michael.  You have lots of resources.”  For the life of me, I have no clue where they went off to.  Running to the rescue.  I hope.

It was in 1978 when I was sitting in an easy chair at the home of my friend Chris,  halfway watching a late afternoon college football game and was probably cracking open my fourth or fifth beer, when Chris said “Let’s go for a run.”   I gave him the most intelligent response I could come up with: “What?”  “C”mon,” he said, “Let’s go for a quick run.”  He was already putting on his running shoes.  Chris was known to do such things.  Sometimes he would want to bowl on the spur of the moment, or go to a movie, or maybe play a little boot hockey, all activities I was ok with because I knew that I could trick my way into sitting my 220 lb body down most of the time.  But, running?  Get real.  Frank Shorter had won the Olympic marathon in 1972 and the ensuing “running boom” was in full swing.  Chris had hopped on board and was training for his first marathon.  Sitting on his coffee table was a copy of  “The Complete Book Of Running” by Jim Fixx.  I knew he was all in where running was concerned and admired his ambition, but right now he was interrupting my beer drinking time.   So imagine my surprise when I found myself jogging ever so slowly up and down Clifton and Fulton Avenues in St. Paul.  I mostly walked, and Chris was kind enough to go at my pace, which is to say no stopwatch was needed to time us – – just a calendar. One and a half miles later we were back in Chris’s living room, I was plopping myself back in the easy chair,  and greeted my waiting beer can with something like “Hello, Gorgeous” and resumed my slurping.  But an odd shift had occurred.  Chris pulled a few more of his “Let’s go for a run” maneuvers on me every now and then, but I was no longer surprised.  In fact, I looked forward to when he would pull the trigger.  Running made me feel good.

At my six month sobriety point, July of 1989, I went into a gradually deepening depression.  Having only a part time job and lots of spare time on my hands, I began running whenever I could to make myself feel better.  From that month of July to the following in 1990, I went from 220 pounds to about 130.  It was not uncommon for me to lace up my shoes on a whim and go for “a little jog,”  not to return until I had covered 14 or 15 miles.  The depression was dealt with through therapy, and in January of 1991, not knowing a thing about what it took to run a marathon,  I dropped an application in the mail for Grandma’s in June of that year.  I somehow felt confident that mailing the application would trigger the necessary chain of events that would give me everything I needed to know.   A synchronistic series of conversations led me to register for a twelve week training class with the Minnesota Distance Runners Association, where we would be lectured by experienced runners each week, (including little Sue Olson who once ran Grandma’s while 8 1/2 months pregnant) and challenged by each other with some increasingly long runs together.  I finished my first marathon in 4:22, a time I’ve still not bettered.  What I was intrigued by however, was this amazing capacity that running gave me to go a little deeper into myself.  Indeed, stuck points in problem solving usually warranted a five or six miler.  I can’t say that a series of uninterrupted light bulbs has gone off ever since then, with every single problem being solved on a run, but it has often produced a solution.  The worst case scenario is that usually I feel more clear headed when I get done.  Again, running makes me feel good.

The Hopis say that running is a form of prayer.  I’m not Hopi, though.  The general consensus seems to be that my lineage bends more toward Mayan.  You know, the Mayans?  Yeah.  The ancient tribe that has been looked at as an enormously advanced spiritual culture.  The same culture that used to play a baseball-like game in which the losing team was sacrificed.  By that type of criteria, I guess many parts of the world today are pretty spiritually advanced.  Great folks, the ancient Mayans.  Wouldn’t wanna lose a chess game to one of them, though.  Heritage aside, I am an oddity in that I’m the only distance runner that anyone knows of in my immediate or extended family.  There is no rational explanation for anyone in my family to go off and become a distance runner.  Maybe it’s just that nobody else had a beer-drinking buddy named Chris thirty-five years ago.  Ironically, Chris ran into some back problems later in 1978, topped out at nineteen miles in his training, and was ordered by his doctor not to run long distances again.  He never completed a marathon.  I am now training for my fourteenth.

I chase after the ever elusive “runners high,”  that breeze of a feeling when my mind and body shift into another gear, I feel like I can run forever,  and experience one of the few times in my world where “being as One with all things” really is an experience rather than a theory.  Alas, the runner’s high is a matter of grace, and happens unexpectedly, and not very often.  The only equivalent “activity” I’ve ever had has been meditation.  The late William Glasser certainly didn’t write “Positive Addiction” by accident:  half the book extols the virtues of running, the other half is on meditation.  The book was my bible for a while.  Today, my bible is the running itself.  I’ve run sporadically this week, and don’t feel quite as “up” as I normally do.  My neurons need to be fired up with activity.  My outlook needs to be revamped.  After I get done with my run, I suspect the supervisor I’m nervous about presenting in front of will look more like an ally and a mentor than an obstacle to somehow sneak beyond.  Running really is a form of prayer.  Though I’ve once again barely scratched the surface of a topic dear to me,  even writing a little about it makes my heart sing.  Running enhances creativity, keeps me fit, helps me maintain a reasonably healthy weight, and there are no gym fees.  It mellows me out, give me great stamina in many areas life, and makes me feel more vibrant and alive.  No, it’s not for everyone, and I’m sure not advocating it as being a be-all or end-all. With running can also come injuries, although I’ve been very fortunate to escape with very few (and no knee problems!) over the last thirty-five years.  I love to run.  It is one of my joys in life.  It can be every bit as ageless as meditation or yoga.  Ask the Indian runner who completed his first marathon at age 92 in 6:42. The next year he took off almost an hour and came in at 5:43.  He began running at age 89 to grieve the loss of his son.

The benefits are many, the down side small.  I’ve run in a -60 windchill, and in torrential downpours.  And yet the one thing that bothers  me is running in the wind no matter what the temperature.  Living in Minnesota, this can be pretty tough to get around.  Today my single-eye is on the benefits.  I truly want to produce a good class for all of the newbies coming into my workplace.  As I’m relatively inexperienced in teaching classes,  my intuition is leading me to participate in the activities that make for a better me in order to do well.  My fall back is the following quote from ultra-marathoner Ephraim Romesberg, stated at mile 65 of the Badwater Ultramarathon, a 135 mile race that begins at the base of Death Valley, and finishes atop Mount Whitney: “I always start these events with very lofty goals, like I’m going to do something special.  And after a point of body deterioration, the goals get evaluated down to basically where I am now – – where the best I can hope for is to avoid throwing up on my shoes.”  With that in mind, I have no place to go but up.  Hello ten-miler, my old Friend . . .