GRIT, or What You Will excerpt:
Quickly doing the math, I calculate the speed at which I must run to keep time. 5:14 a.m. Sprint all the way. When I think I cannot do it, this sprint the whole way, I convince myself that I must do it. I must do it for myself, for who I am—a woman, a writer, a mother, a daughter, and an artist. In order for my self worth to flourish and grow and strengthen over time, I must achieve my goals. My goal is to care for myself and my children and the man I love. So I run. I sprint. I run as swiftly as possible into the sprint: each step carefully, accurately executed, minding my knees and the placement of each foot’s landing. Down the street, within blocks, I am in full gallop; I feel like the horse and rider at once again. My body strong and lean, my composure forward and pulsing, I race to the bus stop.
The air is crisp, foggy, misty, and quiet. Before the sun rises, before the birds sing their calls, prior to the lit windows lining the waterfront and city and hilltop homes, I run in the morning hush: My breath and footsteps the only sounds I hear. This breath, this pulsing heartbeat, this commitment to my purpose propels me. I begin to envision my life: the woman I have grown to be in all of my strengths, weaknesses, accomplishments, struggles, losses, gains; in all of my understanding, empathy, compassion, confusion, chaos—I have a strange, deep sense of wisdom and peace in my time here in this life. Suddenly, I know more than ever what my life is all about. It hits me, this sense of duty to my purpose. More than ever before, I understand there is no other way. I must tell my story and the story of my people. I am the human condition.
An image of my grandmother comes to me. I see her. I wonder immediately if she was able to run like me. Not literally, but figuratively—could she run? Did she see her way, and run away from the oppression of the terror and the demons and the excruciating weight of destruction in her life? The feeling is crushing my chest—to think of my grandmother’s life makes me short of breath, I start to take the form of the wilt of a dehydrated, cut flower, my body faltering for a moment. I feel my shoulders bowing forward; I feel my knees buckling under my perplexed frame’s heft; I feel the immensity of disorientation. And then I realize: She could run, and she did run. She faced the facts, and then ran away from all of the awful things, saving herself, and saving her children.
“Mary,” my heavy breathing pushing the whispered chant out. “Mary.”
For my mother’s mother. For my father’s mother. The two Mary’s I come from. And Soledad. And Beatrice. And Leonisa. And Leona. And all the others before and after me. And, for me, I run. I am running and I see all of these beautiful women before me—as young girls, as teenagers, in their 20’s and 30’s, and now as 40-year-old women like me in their prime. Muire says it is an age when women are still keepers of a youthful beauty paired with that of attained wisdom, a true rarity. We are different, yet the same: We are one. In this moment, in this time, it is revealed to me. Those women, my ancestors, and all of their mothers and fathers and daughters and sons before and after them, run with me. We run together like a band of horses. We run together like the massive waves of the Pacific to the coasts of California. We run like the wind whips through the world in all of its magnificence, shaping and forming the cosmos. This is my stride, how I continue, how I remember, and how I forget. I face then forget the pain, I forget the sorrows. I remember only that I made it through. I run with the spirits and the ghosts of my family lineage towards emancipation. I focus on the lessons and opportunities of life’s experiences. I take the momentum of my collective memories and make a channel. I wade in that channel under the skies. Over that channel I build a bridge. From that bridge I gaze at the waters, the skies, and my dreams. Inside of those dreams, my goals are set. Once I am set, I go to my path. There, my journey awaits me.
The moment after I chant my grandmother’s names, I begin to lose my breath. In an instant internal retaliation, I force a recalibration of my breathing. I search my visual and technical memory bank for Houdini’s mechanisms: filling my lungs slowly, fully; holding for a moment, releasing, and repeating. Gently putting in place the pace. Fresh air. Oxygen. Evenly breathing. The mind calms, fear leaves, worry subsides.
Having a handle on my body and my mind, I am able to return to the vision of my ancestors and me running. Running on the sidewalk, up and down curbsides, crossing the saturated, gleaming streets, under the moist, soft dewy weeping branch leaves, with a visage of the faint starlit night falling and the day rising under mystical indigo clouds, I come to terms with every aspect of my life. So much so, I think of nothing else but the moment I am experiencing: my running pace increases in power, prowess, potency. The tears in my eyes begin to clear, and I see the length and breadth of my shadow on the pavement.
With the vision of the women and men and children in my family behind me, the shadow doppelganger of my running self, and with the hopes I hold for my own daughters and son, I fly to the finish. Like a beaming light I cannot see but only imagine in the distance, I visualize the bus being on its route; I visualize my placement relative to the bus as the bright light in this geographic scheme. In something I cannot explain I determine that that light and my force will meet at the same space in time. I know this because it must be done, it must be accomplished. Why? Because it is part of my goal, and my goals being set inside my dreams, I realize fully that without my dreams, I am nothing. And because I believe I am something—that I always have been, and always will be, I go for it.