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For the first time in weeks, it wasn’t bitter cold and windy. The sun was coming up, the temps were tolerable, and the streets were clear, so I arrived at our meeting spot happy and excited to run even though it was 7 a.m. (hell, I used to run at 5 a.m., so…). That morning, it was just me and my friend C and she’s way faster than me.

Fortunately, she has mercy and lets me set the pace. I only need to lag behind a bit before she notices and slows her roll. The pace is somewhat challenging for me, but not so fast that I can’t talk. And, we talk and talk and talk and talk.

That’s the joy of running with friends, particularly girlfriends. C is one step ahead of me in the parenting game, with two gone from the nest and one more about to graduate from college and get married this summer, which makes C a valuable source of parenting information and advice because she has just been there, just done that.  She is far enough ahead to offer perspective, but close enough to remember what it was like. She always has the best advice, too.

We talk about anything and everything when we run and that morning we talk about what’s on my mind — this odd transitional time in my life, one kid in college, the other about to graduate from high school. After nearly twenty years of constant activity and rushing here and there, the end of Lauren’s swim season has suddenly left me with a lot of free time in the evenings. The girls drive themselves the places they want to go. Many evenings they both go off to work about the time I finish up for the day and I’m left wandering around the house like, well now what?

Why am I here now? What’s my purpose now? I don’t know what to do with myself, so I mostly do more miles (I take a lot of walks).

I share all this existential mid-life crisis shit with C as we crest a hill that offers a far-off view of the lake — bright blue this morning, thanks to the sunshine.

As we gain speed on the downhill, she says, “I remember feeling that way, and it was really hard for me because I was a stay-at-home mom. It was literally my life, you know? But, then I went back to work.”

C works at the college in food services where she befriends every coworker, but especially looks out for the student workers and she has a soft-spot for any kid that needs any kind of help. Unlike me, who would run screaming from drama or complicated kids, C dives right in. A mother on a mission to make things better, whatever it takes.

She tells me about one of her student coworkers who had just given her an unexpected gift — a bag with all the ingredients to do some baking — and a heartfelt letter about how C had made this girl, who has not had the greatest life or parental support, feel — welcomed, loved, seen, cared for.

“So, you know, it feels like I found a purpose again,” she said.

“Oh, my God, stop,” I say as I feel tears welling. “I cannot run this pace and cry.”

She’s still mothering. Gathering them all up under her wings. Watching out for them. Meeting their needs.

The world needs a million more people like C, quietly changing lives just by caring. I can’t think of a more noble purpose.

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About Just Write: Just Write is my adaptation of free writing, a technique in which a person writes continuously and quickly without little regard for spelling, grammar, or topic. It helps writers overcome blocks of apathy and explore everything from meaningful topics to mundane observations with the same effort and without the pressure of crafting perfect prose. I just start writing.