8/23/19 - Because.
Updated: Sep 28, 2019
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The next time you tell someone you run for fun, and they say WHY, is someone CHASING you? WHY WOULD YOU EVER DO THAT? Just remember...they asked.
Hi! This is Coach Sarah, and this is the Morning Mantra!
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Hi, my name is Sarah Axelrod. I'm a run coach and a lover of poetry, and a person who cares about your well-being. You don't have to be an athlete to be #coachedandloved, and if you need an anchor to hold onto as you move through a tough situation, you've come to the right place.
Today’s mantra is: because.
"Why are you here?" is the question I always wanted to ask my students. Phrased that way, the question seems either inane or menacing. “Uh, I’m here to fulfill the language requirement.” That’s why most of the freshman I taught in Italian 101 were in my class: checking a box on the way to a degree, by studying a language that, they’d been promised, was fun and would net a good grade.
But what I hope over the time we get to know each other is that they will tell me more about why they came to be sitting in my classroom. Was it the idea of traveling through an Italian fantasy scape and learning to make pasta from someone’s nonna? When they closed their eyes and imagined the ideal versions of themselves speaking Italian, I asked, what did that look like? It’s hard to get 18-year-olds to admit to their Italian-speaking fantasies, but they were often there. Watching Roberto Benigni’s films in Italian with no subtitles, reading Dante’s Divine Comedy in the original. Studying art restoration in Florence. Whether or not they could readily name them, all of these students had been drawn to this language by something, something that had moved them deep within themselves in a way they weren’t even conscious of.
I was recently reminded of this when my daughter and I went to the library and went straight to the Mo Willems shelf, as we are wont to do. As so often happens, there was a new addition there, one I hadn’t seen before, and as I always do in these cases, I snapped it up and slid it into the pile between Knuffle Bunny and Frozen. Because is a new picture book written by Willems and illustrated by Amber Ren, and it begins: “this is how it happened.” A piece of music floats through the air, through time and space, and someone somewhere is inspired. People want to hear it, and they want it to be heard, so they form an orchestra, and they find other talented people who are motivated by the same things they are. Hard work is involved, and luck. The end result is more music. Another audience of another generation. A child who just happens to be in the crowd that night because a ticket became available at the last minute. A new wave of inspiration that carries music forward and takes it farther. More hard work, more luck, and another world premiere of a new piece, the product of centuries’ worth of inspiration and hard work and dedication and luck. The book ends, “and that night, someone else was changed. That is how it happens.”
As I read this story to Ros and her dolls (her dolls which were my dolls, and because of them and their American Girl Doll stories I was inspired to learn to read when I was only slightly older than her) I was all of a sudden weeping - some of this children’s content in my orbit really does it to me, clearly. There is so much beauty in this story, and you can’t read it without thinking about all the little things that conspired to bring you to where you are now.
Why did I start studying Italian, at the age of 18, having never spoken it in my life, without even a single Italian relative in my whole family history? Well, honestly, because my mom had cancer. She got cancer and almost died mid-chemo and then lived, and once she lived she wanted to LIVE. Because she had always wanted to live in a French-speaking country, and because my dad was offered a job there, we moved to Switzerland. Because I was at just the right age and had agreed to go to intensive French-language camp, I learned French really, really well. Because I had learned French at age 9, I was bored of it by the time I got to college, but also primed to learn another romance language with ease. Because my first Italian professor was one of the kindest, smartest, warmest, most encouraging people I have ever known, I wanted to learn her language as perfectly as I could. Because the whole Italian department at the college I attended was composed of the kindest, smartest, warmest, most encouraging people I have ever known, I took Italian all four years of college. Because it made the Italian major easier to complete, I studied abroad. But really, because I had a fantasy of myself speaking Italian, reading in Italian, ordering coffee in Italian, running in Italian. Because of all this, I spent the next ten years striving to become a professor of Italian. And just because I have left that career behind me doesn’t make all of the “because” any less beautiful.
When someone asks you why you are here - why you run, why you do what you do for work, just imagine that they’re Mo WIllems writing the book of your because. Skip past the right answer - what’s the true answer? More often than not, your because - your true because - is far more interesting and more beautiful. If it’s me that’s asking, trust that the true because is what I want to hear.
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You are Coached. You are Loooved, and you ARE winning at life. And if you need MOAR reasons to believe that, follow @morningmantrapod on Instagram.