The fog clings to the air around me as I check my laces one more time even though I know they are tied. It is a manifestation of the nervous energy that is bubbling up within me. I take a slow, deliberate, deep breath and can taste the salt air. I launch my running app and the interface looks quite different from the last time I used it in late April. It is renewed, just like I am. Inexplicably, I select the guided run – something I have never done before – and I slowly start to move my body.
The muscles in my legs rebel. They are sore already and I have only gone a few steps. The pavement gives way to sand and back to pavement again. I hurt all over. I’m tired and I’ve only just begun. I note with a slight smile that this is the familiar tired of getting back into an exercise routine and not the fatigue that I suffered for months. I silently celebrate the difference.
A break in the sand dunes reveals the ocean for the first time. The fog clings to the waves too, making it hard to see where the sky ends and the ocean begins. I feel connected to the earth as I navigate this foggy soup. The sight of the ocean gives me renewed strength. This is by far my favorite path to run in the world.
I taste more salt on my lips and realize I am crying. Unlike the tears of agony and fear that streamed from my soul in the depths of despair I felt months into my illness, these are tears of joy. This run is a turning point for me. I have closed the chapter on my four month battle with the coronavirus. Today I have begun to exercise again.
To my right an elderly woman walks her dog. The silver colored pit bull is pulling her along and the woman lets him. They slow down so the dog can sniff the ice plant where a vibrant magenta flower blooms. I chuckle a little as I fantasize about the speed I could be moving if only a pit bull were pulling me along too. I overtake them, but just barely. Although I am running slower than slow, I am running. My guided run coach pops into my ears with a message of strength and encouragement, the positive reinforcement that I need to overcome the pain of inactivity my muscles are signaling.
Like a phoenix, I am reborn from the ashes of covid. I emerge from my cocoon and am ready to take flight on the cool ocean air. I mix my metaphors and I don’t care – I’m running. well, maybe jogging. well, more like trotting. Let’s be honest, I am practically walking but with a runner’s posture. The coach pops into my ears again and calls me an athlete. It feels funny to think of myself in that way and I try to embrace it. The pain of disuse dissipates, rolling back with the fog to reveal the expanse of the ocean once more. My pace is slow, but I am running.
Four months is a long time to be sick. Sometimes I wonder how I could ever repay all the kindness and support I was given during that long dark night of the soul. So many doctors and nurses and healers of every kind and yoga instructors and meals and prayers and messages of love and support from family, friends, and even from strangers.
The pandemic rages on in the world I reemerged into. People are still suffering. People are still dying. I am keenly aware of my privilege. I was given tools and machines to help me fight the virus from home. I went into the illness strong – well nourished. I have health insurance so I did not hesitate to go to the hospital when I needed to. Thrice. I could FaceTime with my family and friends, lessening feelings of loneliness in all those months of isolation. Seeing my parents’ faces everyday brought me greater comfort than I knew was possible. My community is well educated and well informed. They helped me research and better understand the virus; relying on scientific journals and not the sensational muck that circles the drain of social media. I had all this and it still took everything in me to beat the coronavirus. My heart breaks for the people who suffer the virus with fewer resources.
I once met a man who served our country as a combat medic. Having done several tours, he had seen things unimaginable to me. Throughout my illness I often thought of the tattoo on his left forearm I had silently noticed in our brief encounter: You Don’t Know How Strong You Are Until Being Strong is All You Have. Although our circumstances are quite different, his sage advice buoyed me on more than one of the awful days. People touch us in lasting and unexpected ways.
It is now five months after the onset of symptoms. I am healthy. There are a few lingering things that pop up now and again but the virus and its brutal aftermath are largely behind me. I have clawed my way back to health. I couldn’t have done it without the help of so many.
And now I pay it forward. In every way that I can.