We ran headlong into the northerly wind, in shorts that were too early a nod to spring. Our legs felt the raw lash of the breeze and our muscles slowed despite themselves, fighting against something we could not control.
With my running parnter, I have permission to say and be anything I want without worry of judgement or recourse or shock. (We all need a running parnter, even if we don’t run.) I told her, “I should, I really should,” do this thing. I can’t remember what thing was so important it required my immediate and pervasive attention. Must have been important.
Before the words lifted on the blasting wind, before they dissipated into the sky, before they flew from my lips, she was on me with encouragment. Perhpas that is why I don’t remember what important thing I should be doing, because instead of the wind, she was the thing that took the burden of the should from me. Replaced it with kindness and grace.
She laughed. “Should? Should?” Then, because I know this word, and I rail against this word, I knew her point. But she elucidated. She began a litany of the many important things I do for me, for my family, for my work, for my faith. Basically, my friend told me to get over myself.
And she was right.
I am approached often enough about running now to have a note file of answers in my head. My most often used note? “Why should you?”
Usually, they say, “Oh, I should run more.” Or “I should try that.”
And maybe they will. Or can. Or need to try that. But should they?
When I find myself saying the S word, I know it’s time for a checkdown. I tend to believe that the S word indicates not a righteous spurring to action but a loathsome descent into the comparison game and its attendant guilt. The S word consumes us with its cousin, shame. When I think the S word, I become a digger, rooting down into the soil, finding that rocky nothingness and exhuming it. I don’t have time for Shoulds. Or Shame.
I can not do what X does as a mother. I can not do what Y does as a writer. I can not be who W is as a wife. I am only equipped, indeed I am only called, to be Jen. Shoulds negate those three letters that belong to me. And I don’t have time for that.
We ran. I let the word, and the important thing I thought I needed to be or do fly off into the wind. And the words of my friend, the truth she sang to me warmed my tired muscles. We ran on.