Magic

In 2003, I signed up to be part of Team in Training to run a marathon in San Diego. At the time, I thought I was “there” (physically and destiny-wise) to do a marathon. Period.

I’d train, run the marathon, and then go on with my happy life.

How wrong I was. What I didn’t know then were these words from a wise yogi named Tina. “Nothing ever is as you expect it will be.”

How wise indeed. While the marathon in its 26.2 miles was as I expected, that’s where the predictability of the experience ended. What I didn’t expect was to be placed in a bubble, where lifelong friendships would be formed between my teammates; with each of us putting a stamp on the other’s timeline of memories. What happened in that bubble is the stuff of life that you can’t dream up, force, or plan.  It simply happens. Like magic.

Flash forward to this past March. On a cold winter night, my friend and I purchased plane tickets to Spain. Our destination Pueblo Ingles, a tiny village four hours west of Madrid. Here, we would spend 8 days teaching English to Spaniards. We simply had to get ourselves to Madrid; the rest of the expenses would be taken care of. Frequent flier miles made the trip almost free. I was pumped up for what I thought would be a great chance to travel to Spain, practice my Spanish before and after the program, and enjoy some Spanish tapas and wine. Who can argue with an (almost) free trip to Europe? How could that not be good?

Well, it was good. Great, fabulous, magnificent to be exact. And, again, as Yoga Tina said, it was not as I expected it to be. Just like my marathon group, I found myself in the midst of something big.

There were 52 of us consisting of teachers, students, and 2 leaders. We were an equal mix of Spaniards and Anglos (English speakers from Wales, Canada, Great Britain, Scotland, Ireland, Israel, and the U.S.). We met in Anglo-Spaniard duos all day, every day, from 9 a.m. until midnight or one… at least.

Our only job was to talk to each other, creating a weeklong English immersion for the Spaniards. Each hour, the Anglos would get a new Spaniard to talk with, and at lunch we gathered for more conversation. Next, we took a two-hour siesta break, and continued the process again from 5 p.m. until the wee hours of the night. Even as I write this, the schedule seems (and was) pretty intense- hard for many to understand how such a schedule is doable much less enjoyable.

Well, it turns out that when you’re in the midst of something big, big things happen. As we got to know each other, we began to learn about our respective cultures and lives. A few of us, Americans and Spaniards, ran together through the hills of the nearby village and talked… running of course. It turns out that running is an international language. During our days, the small talk of families, job, religion, and hobbies were the gateway to the realization that human connections know no language barriers. Soon we became not a group of Anglos and Spaniards, but a group of people, sharing a week together, and realizing that the more our lives were different, the more they were the same. In essence, we all felt something magical happening. Without even trying, we bonded and formed friendships and memories that would last a lifetime.

I didn’t think of it initially as “magic” until one of the last days at breakfast. I was sitting with one of my new Spaniard friends (an engineer) and my friend Lorraine from Canada. We were discussing “El Camino,” the famous pilgrimage leading to Santiago in northern Spain. Lorraine was telling us the theory that the Camino lies directly under the Milky Way and follows the “ley lines” that reflect the energy from those star systems above it. These ley lines, according to my friend (and originally from Shirley MacLaine) are the spiritual life force that activates the Earth itself into a living being.This was some pretty heavy stuff to discuss at breakfast (the only meal at Pueblo Ingles where wine is not served), and I wasn’t sure how my engineer friend was going to respond. I looked at him and said, “How do you feel about that theory, Rafael?” Instead of even challenging or attempting to explain the theory, he simply said, “There is no magic until we believe in magic.”

I for one, believe in magic. Magic happens when you stumble upon a group of people who change the way you think, the way you feel, and basically just make you happier when you are around them. I experienced this magic in all of my marathon groups and at Pueblo Ingles.

But is wasn’t until I came home from Spain that I realized that I don’t need to travel around the world to find magic. It’s right here in front of me, every day, waiting to be discovered in the people I love, the places I know, and the work I’m here to do. Magic is here as long as I believe it can be.

So friends, lace up your running shoes and get out on the trail of life. Be on the lookout for magic, in whatever form it takes… because, as you know, nothing is as we expect it to be.

by abbey algiers

*Photo below of La Alberca- Pueblo Ingles. For information on Pueblo Ingles, visit puebloingles.com.

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The Best of Plans

One of the great things I’ve discovered about activities like running and golfing with others is that each activity comes with a sort of automatic “get to know you” clause. You’re out there, on the road or on the course, and you have no choice but to make small talk. Because you always have the sport you’re playing to fall back on, silence is rare. The hour or so together almost always ensures bonding on some level. I’ve never walked away from a run or a round of golf thinking, “Well, that person had nothing to offer me.” Most always, I pick up a gem or two to think about.

This past week I had the chance to sub on my husband’s work golf league. I saved my co-worker small talk until after the round in the clubhouse. Here I met Bob, the CPA in charge of scoring and all things statistical in nature. Well, after all of the cards were handed in, Bob went “off duty” and we all started to talk about our families. An interesting highlight was hearing about Bob’s daughter, who would be entering her fourth year of medical school in the fall. Bob explained, “She got married to a guy from Germany during her third year- this April. This fall she’ll start her fourth year. However, she’s pregnant, so… in December, she’ll move to Germany after finishing her first semester of medical school. They’ll live there one year, then come back to finish her second semester of her fourth year, then go on to do her residency.”

Bob’s daughter sounded like she really had it together, and you could tell Bob was pretty proud of her. However, towards the end of his story he added, “You know I told her that all sounded great. However, she needs to realize that at some time in her life, one of the great plans she makes for herself just isn’t going to work out. Everything doesn’t turn out perfectly all of the time. Life just doesn’t work that way.”

Having lived that sentiment a half a dozen times or more in my life, I can see the wisdom in Bob’s advice. Plans- no matter how carefully and thoughtfully they are put together- have the propensity to blow up in our faces at any time. These can be small plans- “I’ll run five tomorrow morning”- that change when we awaken to a thunderstorm or bout of the flu. They can be bigger plans, that leave us not participating in a marathon that we’ve trained long and hard for because of a slew of circumstances- from injury to weather to life happening. And they can be larger than life plans that are interrupted when jobs are lost, marriages end, kids screw up, or worse things happen.

The bottom line is, no matter how precisely we plan for the “perfect” anything- be-it a run, round of golf, trip, school experience, marriage, or whatever- the only thing we can plan for sure is that we absolutely don’t know how things will turn out. So, instead of taking the extreme and not planning for anything, knowing it could go awry, I guess the best we can do is just prepare the best we can to tackle anything that might come our way. For runners, this means hydrating well, wearing proper clothes, buying a Road ID, lubing up to prevent chafing and blisters, and putting the miles in during training for the best race experience possible.

For life, this means getting in touch with the goals, dreams, and people that are most dear to us, and doing everything in our power to make sure we achieve the items on our buckets lists, and appreciate the people we love.

And of course as we do all of this, there’s a danger that we could get carried away while in pursuit of all of these grandiose plans. This could leave us focused solely on the goals at hand, and while we would then get the results we desire (i.e. miles that are quick, great rounds of golf, successful careers, beautiful homes, successful kids, etc.), there’s a danger in getting too wrapped up in “the plans.” It seems that then, we might miss out on the best part of it all- enjoying the people we happen to be with in the miles we travel. It’s there that we have the most interesting conversations and learn the most interesting facts. It’s there where we just might learn that the best of plans are the ones we never plan for in the first place.