“This black circle here, that you’re hip socket,” my doctor said, pointing to an MRI scan of my right hip. “This white triangle, that’s your labrum.”
“Your labrum should have a smooth edge, but as you can see, there is a tiny chunk missing from yours. That’s how we know it’s a tear.”
For years, I’ve harbored this vision of my perfect day, what I would do from start to finish. Many nights this dream put me to sleep and kept me going to the next day. While there have been revisions over the years, many of the core elements of the day have remained the same – start the day with a sweaty run, a meaningful writing session, and beers with friends outside under the stars. When I think about what really want in life, it’s to write books, run marathons, and have beers with interesting people in interesting places. I call these lifestyle goals because I want them to last the duration of my life, whether I am a young and unmarried in a city or a retired with full grown children in the country. I may not have a lot of friends nor run a sub-4-hour marathon or have the six-figure book deal, but I could do these three things and still have a happy and fulfilled life.
But, sometimes you get thrown off course, and you have to figure out another path.
This week, after an MRI, I found out that my right hip labral is torn. I also finished the third draft of my book. Both events have left me with confusing emotions that led to me erupting into into awkward tears in public yesterday.
The future in both situations is unknown. Do I have to have surgery? Maybe. Can I still run the Chicago Marathon in October? Maybe. Is my running life over? Maybe. My doctor is recommending a cortisone shot before surgery, which would would relieve the pain for a few months and allow me to train for the marathon. There is a chance the shot will be all I need, but the only true way to repair the tear is surgery. I’ve maintained a pretty healthy life (you know, except those bouts of dysentery while living in rural Niger), and I haven’t really come to terms with what surgery would mean. My doctor referred me to a surgeon for a second opinion, so I am going to meet with him and see what he suggests. I can run a bit here and there as long as I am careful about my gait and levels of pain, but at this point I can’t envision a 20-mile run.
As for my book, what happens next, is also uncertain. I will attempt to sell it (after a major line edit), but the publishing world can be a cruel and unpredictable business. You may see it in a bookstore one day, or it may never leave my hard drive. I just don’t know.
As I step into the unexplored, I keep asking myself, do I want these things? Do I really want to be a marathoner and novelist, knowing the degrading, daily, excruciatingly hard work each requires? Do these things even make me happy?
Drinking with friends used to make me happy, until I noticed that it didn’t. I was drinking because I thought I should, that it was part of who I thought I wanted to be. I went on this break because I couldn’t have one beer without feeling awful about myself (and also I couldn’t have just one). What if running and writing no longer bring me joy and I’m only pursing them because it’s what I’ve always done?
Last night I saw this Jeep commercial, and it made me wonder if all these questions and pondering are signs of my internal compass is recalculating. Or, maybe it’s just doubt screaming in attempt to throw me off course? Again, I don’t know.
I think it’s time I get quiet and honest with myself. The hurdles ahead of me on this path or another are great, and so I might as well take the time to listen to my heart in choosing where to go from here.