“You’re the luckiest girl in the world.”, my mother said to me. “Most people spend their whole lives searching for the truth, and the majority of them never find it. But you – you KNOW it.”
My mother was right – but not in the way that she meant it.
Being raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, I always felt different from the world around us and the people living in it; like an outsider, looking in, never truly fitting in. In a cult-like upbringing, that it is exactly what they want you to feel but, for me, it went even deeper than that. It enveloped my entire being so that, even amongst my own family, I felt as though I didn’t belong.
Running became my “escape” – much like a moving meditation, the rhythm and flow of my body as it ran the back country roads and ridges of Ohio created a freeness of mind quite difficult to explain to someone who has never felt it firsthand for themselves.
Perhaps this is what kept me grounded and in place for so long? Or perhaps this is what finally gave me the strength to pick up and leave? It’s hard to say – but the year I turned 25, I took my stand, admitting that I do not agree with them or their beliefs, and asked to leave their religion.
Immediately, I felt the fiery backlash from the organization and all who remain a part of it. I was labeled an “apostate” and marked as if I were the Devil, himself. “Worse than a person without faith”, I believe is what they called me. My friends and family were no longer allowed to speak to me or socialize with me, lest they be punished within the congregation. If I saw one of them in public, they looked the other way and if I called out to them, they pretended not to hear me. I even returned to one of their church meetings once and it was like being completely alone in a crowded room – they looked right past me as if I wasn’t even there. I was treated like I didn’t even exist, aside for the not so subtle whispers as they spoke about my prescence with great disdain and looks of disgust upon their faces. Except for my parents, of course. They simply looked sad and, at times, humiliated; genuinely longing for me to return.
“Repent and ask to be reinstated.”, they begged, “And we’ll welcome you back with open arms.”
But who, in their right mind, would ever want to return to such a superficial people whose friendship with you is 100% dependent upon your conformity to their specific belief system? With them, there is no room for questioning or thinking for yourself. It is not up to you to establish such things as “truth” in your own mind. If their governing body says that something is so – they simply accept this and believe it to be so. Anything less is considered sacrilegious.
So I ran – as far away as I could, while still keeping their granddaughter involved in their lives.
It was during this time that I experienced some of my darkest moments…and found my way through. The concept of “mindfulness” came naturally to me back then and quickly became my way of life. Looking back was painful; it hurt to realize all that I had lost and could do nothing to change. It was terrifying to look ahead; into a future of unknown which I was going to have to navigate alone. Living in the present moment – right here, right now – became my way (the only way!) for me to live life and learn how to love it again.
Running, once again, became my passion. Bad day? Go for a run. Good day? Go for a run. Stressed? Anxious? Bored? Tired? Happy? Sad? Sore? The question itself was irrelevant, the answer was always : GO FOR A RUN! And somewhere amidst those miles of moving and breathing, my mind would clear and any “answer” I had been seeking would appear. If there were no physical answer to be found, a simple sense of calm would wash over me and I’d return home at peace with whatever it is that I had been feeling.
Over the course of the next 15 years, I reestablished my life, personally and professionally, and began to compete in races, eventually setting my sights on qualifying for the Boston Marathon. (Thus, the birth of this blog – to chronicle my journey towards achieving this next level of athleticism.) The relationship between my parents and I improved somewhat, mostly for “emergencies” and the sake of my daughter, but never fully recovered or returned to “normal”. I felt no ill will towards them, as I had come to the conclusion that their faith was so deeply engrained in their hearts and their minds that they truly believed they were doing what their God had asked of them. They were His “faithful followers” clear up to their deaths in October of 2017.
In the 3 years since, I seemed to have lost my way again. I got stuck, for a time, caught up in the past and the pain, sadness, guilt, and regret that comes from looking back.
Shortly thereafter, or rather enmeshed in between, I fell victim to the paralyzing anxiety and fear that comes from looking too far ahead into the future and the unknown. As my sister and I fought the legal battles that followed the investigation into our parents fatal crash, it became impossible to heal as the wounds were repeatedly being ripped open, day after day, as we rehashed all the details of the crash and the events that led up to their untimely deaths.
Once again, I had become lost in my thinking as to what this life is all about and how to go about truly living it. As I continued to make some drastic life changes both personally and professionally, in order to take better care of myself, my focus on qualifying for Boston began to take a backseat to everything else on my plate. And with Covid-19 canceling nearly every single live event on our 2020 calendars, it didn’t seem to matter if I was “prepped and ready”, as the opportunity to execute was most likely not going to present itself this year afterall. Still, I continued to run. Not always far and not nearly fast enough or long enough to earn me a BQ base from which to launch, but regularly enough to keep my thoughts from stagnating and stopping me in my tracks. It was within this “delicate balance” that I, once again, began to feel my breath and find myself. I became aware of my thoughts and the paths down which they attempt to lead me. I’ve begun to practice mindfulness again; doing my best to remain in the moment – right here, right now – and letting the regrets of my past and the fears of my future present themselves yet, gently slip away, not allowing myself to follow them.
This concept is not new to me.
It came naturally to me when I was growing up, running the ridges along the hills of Ohio. It liberated me when I made the decision to release myself from the controlling grasp of organized religion.
It’s crazy to think that losing my parents on that bright and sunny October morning subsequently caused me to, for the better part of the last 3 years, lose myself. And suddenly it strikes me that, after someone we love dies, we have a tendency to redefine ourselves – to question who we are and what we’ve done. But, if given the chance to speak with them again, I’d simply like to say : I’m still the same “Aubs” you’ve always known and loved; only my viewpoints have changed, but I’m pretty sure you saw that coming. And Mom – I have no doubt that you “get me”, just like you always did.
So, yeah. My mother was right – I AM the luckiest girl in the world; because I know the truth. I just needed some time to find it in myself again.