40 - and finally figuring things out

Well, I am 40 now.  I am heading down that slippery slope of becoming my grandmother, who knew absolutely everything and would tell it exactly how she saw it.  In a way, this kind of handle on life is refreshing.  It is black and white, very clear and always amusing, if you are not the victim.

I am going to make a valiant effort not make it to that bluntly critical state as I journey through the second half of life, which already has a few perks.  The greatest so far is the relief of having finally figured a few things out.  And because there is a bit of my grandmother in me, I can only assume that everyone wants to hear what I have to say and if you don’t, I am going to say it anyway!

So here goes; the key to happiness, per Allison Greiner, who has recently achieved middle age status:

1.     The first critical key to happiness is people. I believe that we are shaped most by the people in our lives, so we should be spending our time with those who lift us up, challenge us, are honest with us, who give us perspective and make us smile.  Don’t forget to smile.  

2.     Love yourself.  Please forgive the cliché, but I really do believe this. I spent a lot of time ignoring this piece and wasted a lot of precious time, as a result.  Here is the truth: The people that we treasure in our lives do not love us for the way we look, what we have, what we do for a living or in our spare time.  They love us for all that cannot be defined.  There is a real freedom in letting all the rest go and just being happy in your own skin and trusting that it is indeed a great skin to be in.

3.     Second, laughter is paramount. Not just at the world around us, but at ourselves.   I take great pleasure in laughing at my own expense and so do others.  As a teacher, I have a great audience every day and I think my relationship with my students is stronger because I do not take myself too seriously and can have fun while doing meaningful work.  No one truly appreciates someone who laughs at the expense of others, but it is very endearing to others when you can laugh at yourself.

4.     Perspective. Tragedy and pain are a part of life, but what we all must remember that there is no sorrow without joy, no grief without happiness.  You have to know one to know the other.   Someone very close to me does not know true grief.  She has protected herself from it all of her life, but as a result, she does not know true joy, either.  When my father died after a year of suffering, she was so surprised when she found me so wrought with grief.  She assumed that I would have been relieved.  I was relieved, but there was something very beautiful about releasing all that emotion that reminded me how important my father was to me.  I embrace moments of grief.  It reminds me of how rich my life really is.

5.     Faith is worth a try. I struggle with this.  I always have and probably always will.  But the more experiences I have, both good and bad, the more I open myself to the notion that this earthly life is not all that we will know.  I cannot define it and do not want to.  But whatever it is, it is comforting.

Voila!  You may find this little catalogue of ideas insightful or revolting, but please refer to #2.  It doesn’t matter.  I am happy with it!

Allison Wood Greiner is a high school French teacher, a founding member of Inspired Wining, a wife and mother to three children, including Matthew, who has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. 


Friends and a great cause can make you light on your feet

The summer before my freshman year of high school, my older sister invited me to go on a run with her. I was a soccer player. But I had never gone for a long distance run. For fun. Just because.

We ran four or five miles that day, and it felt amazing. I was hooked. A few weeks later, I signed up for cross-country, and I ran. And ran. And ran.

It was one of the only activities that seemed effortless to me.  I could run for miles and miles. And I always had a kick at the end.

Of course, there was one reason I felt so light. I was only 92 pounds at the time.

Broad Run High School running girls - 1989
But more than that, I simply loved the experience. The wind in my ears. My mind letting go as I entered the zone. The people cheering me on. The friends I made.

Running became a different experience years later. I'm not so light and free anymore. I've been pregnant. I chase after two kids. I work a lot, and because I'm a writer (an occupation for which the motto for success is "Ass in chair"), I sit. And sit. And sit.

But that 13-year-old runner girl was still in there somewhere. I just needed a little inspiration to coax her out.

Fellow Inspired Winer Allison Greiner and her son Matthew became that inspiration for me. Last year, Allison invited me to join her in running the Disney Half-Marathon for PPMD's Run for Our Sons.

A half-marathon. Hmmm. I had been thinking about getting back into running, but a few 5Ks and the occasional 10K was all I had in mind. I couldn't imagine having the time to train for 13.1 miles. And, honestly, I had no desire to run more than 5 or 6 tops.

Cindy, Mary, Allison and me 
But a good friend had made a generous invitation. She trusted me to take on the challenge. And here's the bottom line: Life is going to get challenging for Matthew. How could I say 13 miles was too much when such a feat may never be a possibility for him?

Matthew inspired me throughout my training program. Anytime "My Body" came on my iPod, I thought of him.

"My body tells me no. But I won't quit. Cause I want more. I want more. It's my road. It's my war."

On January 12th, Allison and I joined our friends Mary and Cindy for the Disney Half-Marathon. That Saturday morning, we woke up at 3AM, hopped on the monorail, and joined more than 23,000 other runners at the starting gates. Music pumped from speakers that were taller than I am. Fireworks lit up the black sky to signal the start.

The energy of the entire experience carried me the whole way. Being there with my friends. Watching the sun rise over Magic Kingdom. Waving at the characters and high-fiving spectators and kids from high school marching bands. People were genuinely excited to see the runners and cheer us on.

Some of their signs made me laugh - "Toenails are for sissies," one read.

Others made me incredibly grateful. "I don't know you, but I'm proud of you." That sign reminded me of the many generous donors who had donated to my fundraising page and cheered me on. Friends, relatives, and some people I haven't even seen in decades got involved. Their support was humbling.
At the finish!

Allison, Mary, Cindy and I crossed the finish line arm-in-arm. Then we huddled up, heads together, silent for a few moments.

I never imagined all those miles would feel so good. Every single step was pure adrenaline and joy. I could have run 13 more. I was light once again.



Andrea Spencer is copywriter and speechwriter for The University of North Carolina at Greensboro as well as a professional writing consultant and a mentor to fiction and non-fiction authors. She holds a BA in English Literature from High Point University and an MFA in Fiction from Southern New Hampshire University. Andrea is a wife and mother, soccer coach and one of the founding members of InspiredWining.com. She is currently seeking representation for her novel The Promise of Water.