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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Running for Mac and James

26.2 miles. That’s the distance of a marathon. It takes some 3 hours and others 6 hours. It is long, exciting and at times painful miles with one foot in front of the other in sheer determination to make it to the finish line. Doubt creeps in your mind asking yourself over and over again to stop running and just give up. Just give up! Please! But then I wonder if my grandfather even gave up on Mac?

My grandfather was a top turret gunner in 1943 fighting WWII in N. Africa. He was fighting with the British army to push back the advances of Rommel, the Desert Fox. My grandfather was shot down twice, flew General Patton, received several medals and conducted over 193 missions. Throughout all this time, he kept a diary of the above events which was given to me upon his death. The diary accounts for 6 months of fighting as he describes fear, loss, pain, hope and death. This diary has become a catalyst and a source of values for me in my life.

On my 40th birthday this year, I began to read pages of the diary again to feel a sense of purpose in my life. To feel that I have achieved something and I am someone with a deep connection to life or at least I hoped so. It was at that moment I turned to the page of the doomed mission where my grandfather’s best friend Mac was lost over Sicily. My grandfather was so sad and filled with emotions about losing Mac. There a pictures of my grandfather and Mac together right before the fatal mission. His only friend was gone and there was nothing he could do but pray and hope Mac returned safely. He wrote in his diary for days that he hoped Mac jumped out of the plane in time and was walking back to base with his parachute in hand. But day after day would go by with no word from Mac. My grandfather’s pain for his loss was enormous but yet he continued on fighting the war mission after mission. It was then when I realized my pain, procrastination, and agony was nothing compared to my grandfather and Mac. I wanted to do something that would push my limits, test the boundaries of my convictions and challenge me to push my mind, body and soul further. I decided after 4 years I would run another marathon in honor of Mac and James( my grandfather)

I ran my first marathon in Richmond, VA on veteran’s day 2006 right after my grandfather passed away and before I received his diary. It was 85 degrees and HOT. I remember the last 3 miles vividly and passing my coaches as they scream my name with words of encouragement. All I could do was give a “thumbs up” sign because anything else would be more energy than I could give at the moment. The “thumbs up” was my grandfather’s signal that all was OK when I went to visit him in the hospital during his last days. I did not even realize I was doing it until my coaches told me that was the only sign I would give them that I was OK. I can remember the end of the Richmond marathon and feeling elated as I crossed the finish line on Veteran’s day in honor of my grandfather. But I was in pain. My knees, hip and back were throbbing. I felt elated but yet also alone. No one was there to wave me in, hold up a sign with my name on it or give me a hug at the end. It was just me and my grandfather. I swore I would never run another marathon! My body just does not like to run 26.2 miles. I will never do it again! Until the diary came in my life and showed me courage, fearlessness and above all the love of a friendship.

So, I signed up for the New York City Marathon- what better place to test your wits and honor two of brave soldiers. I felt alive at 40 and ready to see if I could do it all over again. But in NYC you can only get a spot in the marathon if you completed a certain number of races the previous year (which I did not) or through the lottery drawing. I entered my name in the drawing and just my luck my number was not called. Rats! How do I get a number to honor Mac and James? Through a charity organization I was told at the New York Road Runners web site. Charities have numbers that you can raise money in honor of that charity and they give you a NYC marathon number. Ok, but I have to feel the charity- it has to be a cause I care about and that can satisfy my goal to my two soldiers. I found one- Hope For the Warriors.

Hope for the Warriors goal is to enhance quality of life for US Service Members and their families nationwide who have been adversely affected by injuries or death in the line of duty. Hope for the Warriors actively seeks to ensure that the sacrifices of wounded and fallen warriors and their families are never forgotten nor their needs unmet. It was perfect! I will be running the NYC marathon for the charity Hope for the Warriors in honor of Mac and my grandfather who will never be forgotten in my heart. Mac or Alvin Macpherson was an honorable soldier who fought proudly for this country. It took me over 2 years to find his family and share with them the diary and pictures. I found Sarah Moore, his niece, who is now 82 and living in N. Carolina. She was astonished that after all these years something was discovered about her favorite uncle. She can recall him leaving to go to war in N. Africa and saying his goodbyes. After hugging and kissing the family, he walked to the end of the driveway turned around and smiled to his favorite niece, Sarah. That was the last anyone saw of Alvin. Until my pictures and diary were given to me and I in turn gave them to Alvin’s family.

On the first Sunday in November, I will line up on the Verrazano Bridge with my Hope For the Warrior teammates and run 26.2 miles through the 5 boroughs of New York City. Through the pain of a reoccurring injury- I will press on. Through the temperatures throughout the day- I will press on. Through the self-doubt- I will press on! And through the excitement of the city streets- I will press on. But most of all I will press on for the friendship of Mac and James. The true heroes of the day!

If you would like more information on the book I am writing about my grandfather’s diary be a fan on Facebook at: My Grandfather’s Love.
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Hope to see you cheering me on!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

I feel a little Eat, Pray, Love!

Well, I just returned from Italy (with my mom and close friend Karen) and I feel like Elizabeth Gilbert in the the book Eat, Pray, Love. I spent two fabulous weeks eating my way through Italy and learning about my Italian roots. I arrived in Rome and quickly hopped on a high speed train to Florence. My grandfather always said his favorite city in the world was Florence and he was right. We walked along the Ponte Vecchio bridge, saw the David in all his glory, and had a private wine tour through Tuscany. As I was experiencing all of this and truly trying to be present with the moment, I thought about my grandfather. How did he see this beautiful city? and what about it made him love it? I felt like the craziness of NYC was starting to disappear and I was connecting to my Italian ancestors. We left Florence and headed cross country to Montorio

Montorio is a small town on top of a mountain almost 700 feet about sea level. We drove for over 8 hours from Florence to Montorio with very little expectations. We were going to visit close family friends who were on holiday in their hometown of Montorio. The journey was not easy. We were deep in Italy where no tourist would travel and English was not their first or second language. We got lost, then found our way, then got lost again until we saw a town on top of this enormous mountain. All we could see was the top of a Church. Could this be it? Who lives up there and how do we get there?

From the distance the church was getting closer and closer but still so far away. We finally arrived at our destination and this small town had the most amazing charm, elegance and beauty I have ever experienced. The people's warmth towards complete strangers was something I just was not used to. I started to slowly let my New York guard down and allow them in. I ate gelato in the living room of an Italian women, drank homemade wine,walked the town in complete awe and drank water from a man made fountain. The history was beyond anything I imagined it would be in Montorio. After one day, we all wanted to stay longer in Montorio. We changed our plans and stayed for another 2 days. I swam in the Adriatic sea, had lunch on the beach and danced in the piazza to Italian music. I was free!

I felt free- free from society's rules, works deadlines and above all free from myself. The limitations I put on myself because of fear. I did not have one fear at all for 2 weeks. I allowed myself to just be. It is incredibly hard to maintain this feeling inside of you. A feeling that I can do anything I want. Quit my job, move to Montorio, finish this book and just try to find me. Discovering life and really feeling the joy of who I've become.

I always felt myself and free around my grandfather. He was simple, loved life, loved his country and loved me. He never asked for anything more than he needed. He would say "it's not necessary" and that is how he lived his life. I'm not sure in the end he felt free throughout his whole life but reading his diary he was fearless. I could sense his passion for fighting the war and his feeling of being completely free to carry out his dreams. I pick up the diary just to feel it and remind myself of Montorio and the experience I had. An experience of asking yourself, can I be really free?

The two weeks are over and I am back to reality in a sense. Back to work, the subways being late, training for the marathon, and of course the awful jet lag! But in the end, I ate in Italy and Prayed(meditation mostly on the beach.) I did not find love but that's OK because I feel love and I love the person I am