So tomorrow, everything that I have been running for comes to fruition. I realize that it’s only a 10K, not a marathon, but there is more emotion behind this race than I ever thought possible. I have never run for someone who I have lost before. Even if I have thought of them every step of the way, it’s never had that kind of purpose. Meg found this race for us to do and I couldn’t be more thankful to her. The Dempsey Challenge is composed of thousands of people, like Meg and I, who have lost some of the brilliant stars in our life to cancer. My first experience with this disease was with my grandfather, William Joseph Finnerty. I don’t know much about his long battle, as he was a very private person, but I know about the last year, when he finally made it public knowledge to all of us. He was a fighter and no one thought after almost a decade of dealing with it, that he would succumb. Throughout his time of being sick, he stayed true to himself, not sacrificing the things he loved to do the most. He was always a thin man but as he got closer to the end he became increasingly frail. It was hard to see, because his spirit was still there, but his body was withering. I remember not being angry or afraid of this disease until the very end, because it stole Grampy from all of us, leaving behind just a shell that last day. It robbed him of his ability to say goodbye, even though we were all there around him. I can only hope that he could feel it, our energy, drifting off with him.
When people come into my home, the first thing they usually ask is why I have daggers hanging in my kitchen. They are in fact, not daggers but sai and there are two of them, crossed, hanging in a frame. A sai is a traditional Okinawan weapon and my grandfather used them while practicing martial arts. He was stationed in both the Philippines and Okinawa while in the marines and was wounded during the Korean war, receiving a purple heart. His travels sparked his love affair with Uechi-ryu, a discipline that he would continue for the remainder of his life. He was proficient with swords, fans as well as sai. Also along his travels he met George Matson. My grandfather and George, brought Uechi-ryu to this country, helping others to practice the discipline as well. Grampy traveled back to Japan and China on a regular basis and practiced with some of the world’s most proficient individuals in karate. He was quiet about his devotion to Uechi-ryu and never spoke of it in too much depth to any of us. He didn’t believe in children learning it because he felt children couldn’t understand the power it brought with it and never wanted to see it used improperly. However, he and I shared a love of the human body. His in the sense that he needed to know it in and out, to understand both himself and his “opponents.” Me, because I was an avidly curious kid. And it was through this shared passion that I was allowed to see behind the curtain, learning about pressure points and meditation, what focus does to our brains and how through better understanding how we operate, we can better maintain control. Grampy’s home was adorned with swords, Chinese fighting stars, photographs of mentors and intricate writings from far away. It was like visiting a mythical land as a child. As an adult, I am still fascinated with how powerful he was, both here in America and in Japan. When he died, we found out how highly regarded he was and although we weren’t necessarily surprised, we were a little shocked he never shared.
I hang his sai so that I never forget his strength and his honor. Perhaps they are not kitchen appropriate but they are one of the first things I see when I walk into my home which makes me incredibly happy. As a child, I was slightly tormented, knowing a little too much and perhaps being a little too intelligent, he taught me how to hone that, use it to grow and prosper. Things I will never forget. In our guest room, I lay down his black belt, perhaps his most beloved possession. It’s something I don’t feel like sharing with the world and perhaps never will. I know that he wore that proudly, everyday that he practiced and everywhere that he ventured. I don’t know that I will ever get the opportunity to have in my life someone like him. He had a multitude of unique qualities that no one can ever replicate. It brings me tremendous sadness to think that he never met my children, never met my husband, never saw me accomplish the goals I set out for myself. He would be proud of my honor and proud of the life I have chosen to give myself.
Every morning when I run, I think of him. The sunrise is him. The deer we see occasionally are brought by him. The warm breeze in October is provided by him. I know that his spirit was recycled and what he now gives me is different but still great. tomorrow, I run for him. And I know that he will be with me every single step of the way. My advice to you all is spend the time when you can. It’s something you can never get back.
This one’s for you Grampy. xoxo