Better Late Than Never

This has been on my mind lately, wanting to come out. I wonder if someone out there needs the words.

I wrote this poem about a year or so ago, in response to a school assembly that did not succeed in lifting the students up, as I suppose was intended. A performance artist came and, without offering any alternative or hope, told the audience of middle grade students, “You are a statistic. One in three of you will go to jail.”

That was it.

The students dropped his presentation like a soppy, slimy wet sponge, leaving his words to splat on the floor as they turned away.

The speaker tried to regain the teens’ attention by performing an extemporaneous poem, based on a familiar phrase given by a teacher in the audience, “Better Late Than Never.”

I don’t think anyone listened. I certainly couldn’t hear him above the din.

I was so angry that as soon as I got home, I wrote my own poem to share with the students I worked with. They deserved so much more than what that speaker had to say. So much more. It was time to put myself out there.

Better Late Than Never

copyright Susan Dils

When you think you can’t make it…I wrote this for you.

“Better late than never” —
Means don’t you ever, EVER
That it’s too late for you.

That just isn’t true.

See, though I am not you,
At your age
I thought my life, my dreams
Were pretty much through.

My life was my family,
Abused and violent,
Sometimes without a home,
Food stamps and borrowed clothes,
Nights spent outside, with my brothers or alone,
Trying to hide and hoping,
At school, nothing would show.

There was no me,
Or, at least,
None that people wanted to see.

Grown-ups, it seemed,
Only saw my family,
Or my poverty,
They were not able to see
Below the surface.

That made me angry.

I wanted assistance, not pity,
Guidance, not judgment,
And so I resisted, because often,
I seemed to get neither.

I wanted help
To find my voice,
To speak my dreams,
And have the choice
To choose them,
Rather than to lose them.

I am not a statistic, I refused to be.
You refuse too.

It wasn’t easy;
Often, I was angry
At the world, at myself,
And what seemed to be
My dismal, unwanted

Don’t give in.
This world we live in —
We can change that
For ourselves.

In you, I see
Great things to be;
Your eyes show much!

Yes, you CAN be
Doctors and Artists,
Writers and Teachers,
Professors and Lawyers,
Mixers, Performers,
Craftsmen and Chefs,
And Leaders.

And most of all,
I see good people.

Right now you’re a kid;
Don’t deny it, own it!
You make mistakes:

When emotions take flight,
You fight (I did),
You do dumb things (me too),
But that’s NORMAL, right?

LEARN from them, GROW!

And you will become, I know,
The great adult
Who exists in those eyes.

Your eyes show me dreams –
Some hidden, some not.
Will you find them?
Yes, because you have got
Time (don’t forget it)

To fight, and become
Who you want to be —
Don’t give up.

Let me help you. I want to.

It’s better late than never.

It may not be good poetry, but it’s my poetry. You have yours too.




In my estimation, I am nearly three years into what is known as “peri menopause.”  “Second Spring” has not yet happened, and I can’t wait until it does.  The changing of this season could take years, even a decade, as wiser women than I have told me.  Sigh.  While the first couple of years were really no trouble, this new stage is truly a challenge.

It isn’t that I am difficult to be with or highly emotional – nothing like that.  I don’t even have the dreaded hot flashes I hear so much about.  I do believe that because of my eating and activity habits, I am going through these changes rather smoothly.  It’s the little things – tingly hands, sometimes itchy skin for no reason, the return of “Flo” in not so regular patterns, and most of all, the sudden decreases in energy that kill my ability to run at what to me would be an acceptable pace or for a planned long period of time. Trivial to some, I suppose, but now that I am free from injury and ready to register for my first 100-mile race next year, it’s a bit disconcerting.  Instead of being in that zen moment when I feel I could run on forever, I’m struggling with “holy cow, I’m exhausted!”

I don’t believe it is all physical, either.  Often, when I check in with myself, I feel my legs are fine and my breath is good.  My brain, however, is struggling.  It wants to walk.  It wants to sleep.  It wants a cup of tea and my body wrapped in a blanket!  

I find ways to help my brain along.  I offer it a reward at my favorite cafe corner when we’ve finished a run.  I offer it naps and quiet time to process and recover.  I meditate and encourage it to grow.

Wait – grow?  

That’s not what people tend to say when they are approaching menopause.

Usually, the phrase is, “I’m getting old,” or “my life is over.”

Really.  That is what I hear and read from others, a lot.

I don’t agree, obviously.

In the times when I am meditating on this epoch (because yes, looking ahead to a decade feels like an epoch sometimes!), I am reminded that our whole lives are marked by periods of growth.  Infanthood, childhood, the teen years, the twenties, the thirties….we grow and change in different ways during these times.  Hormones rage, brains develop, social and cultural values form.  We face these changes and learn to live with our bodies and ourselves.  If we listen, we learn to move in harmony with those changes and we benefit from them.  If we resist, we become angry with ourselves and disappointed with the life we feel we’ve been dealt.  Life becomes hard.

I am not denying that our growing times are filled with challenges and uncertainty.  Think back to puberty – how frustrating was that time?  How often did we ask, why is my body acting this way, why can’t I turn off these thoughts, why am I hungry, or tired, or clumsy, or…?  We just wanted everything to stop!

I do believe that when we move through these periods of growth, many of us tend to resist the changes. We want childhood to go on forever, we want our bodies to be full of vitality and not raging with hormones, we want to be able to eat everything and anything without gaining weight.  We don’t want to grow, actually.  We want things to stay the same.  We don’t want to change our perspectives; we want the world to stay as it is, good or bad, because we are comfortable with that paradigm.  It’s scary when we don’t know where we’re going.

I believe that fear does not help at all. Perhaps it even makes the struggles worse.

If you are going through a period of change (be honest – we ALL are, somewhere along the line!) and you find yourself fearful and anxious, even depressed, consider spending time each day to think about it with a broader view.  You are growing, just as you have always done.  You’ve made it through so far.  Where will this new growth take you?  How can you help yourself grow in a positive way?  What do you need to do to embrace the growth and make it something good and exciting rather than fearful, in your mind?

I think on this question daily.  So I go today, ready for a long and slower-than-usual run, preparing for that hundred.  I’ll get there, because I am growing.

yellow tulip in spring
Photo by Kaboompics .com on

Finding the Wild

It’s cold, January cold. Yet it’s only November. Here in our new town, fall lasted all of about three days. It was glorious though, and the trees were dazzling against the dark grey of November-in-October skies.

We’ve begun to settle in. Nearly all unpacked, essential repairs (mostly) finished on the tiny, postage-stamp house we purchased, nearby parks and shops visited. We’ve even found some favorite restaurants already, all of which we can walk to.  That was a critical reason for choosing this place – we can walk to just about everything, from post office, to lake, to shopping and restaurants. We love it!

Walkability is not the only plus, however.  The town we lived in before also had many things we could walk to.  Great neighbors, festivals…all the idyllic requirements that make up a good community.  It even had a state park nearby with nice trails to run on.  This town does not have that.  Still, I find I am much happier here in this new place.  It has a sensation that I did not feel at all while living in western New York; here, despite its metropolitan location (the outskirts of Cleveland), despite the miles and miles of sidewalks and less access to actual trails, I feel this place is still, in a way, wild.

There is an energy here, and it is both wise and vivacious, it seems.  It enters through my eyes and skin and feet, and it electrifies me.

I haven’t felt this energy since living in Hawaii, and I am so excited to have it back!

My husband and I talk about what makes this place feel so much better – is it the proximity to water?  We are in easy walking distance to the shore of Lake Erie, and a river runs through a deep valley not one mile from our house.  Is it the trees?  Our old community had many trees too, but here, there seem to be more.

Is it that Nature is more closely wound into the fabric of the entire community?  That when I walk or run, I can veer off into little parks or access the shoreline, drop down into gullies, flow on the sidewalks beneath canopies of hickory, silver maple, locust, and even ginko (yes, lots! odd…) leaves?  I may be on pavement, but Nature is right here, free to breathe and touch, see and taste.  Yes, taste. Dirt and leaf and bark and stone – the smells combine in the air to make a taste.  And I relish the flavor every time I am outside.

The giant paddocks of asphalt are fewer.  Nature holds her own here; she is alive, and she is yet wild.

So, despite the bitter chill, it’s time for me to go out and run.  Time to be alive!

Very thankful this Thanksgiving that I am here, and wishing you the same, sweet taste of wild this holiday!

p.s.  A great podcast episode about finding the wild in the ordinary can be found here, on Out There podcast:

Growth – Parenting is Bittersweet

I am on a plane, headed home after seeing my child for a week. Watching her go off to school in another country away – no, another continent away – is one thing. Seeing her live in an apartment on her own and working is entirely different. Different culture, different language, different system, and without family…how many adults could accomplish what she’s doing? And yet in the U.S., she’s not even old enough to order a glass of wine.

I am overcome with emotion, both in missing her and being so proud of the independent woman she’s become. There is still room to grow, but that is what it’s all about, isn’t it? She is moving in the right direction.

Give her room, I tell myself. Don’t hold on too tight. But pray she always knows I am here with so much love when she needs me.

I didn’t know this part of parenting would be so hard.

Even the Best Made Plans…

The early October air is warm and misty, with gray skies creating a backdrop to offset the transitioning colors of red, yellow, and green. It is as if the world is in a time of quiet reflection. A perfect day for what I had planned a year ago; it was the kind of day I had hoped for. Today, I should have been running along the Delaware Canal, lost in childhood memories and the beauty of the area in which I had grown up. At this moment, I should have been somewhere in the midst of a 50+ mile run from one end of the Delaware Canal to the other. Instead, I was still in western New York, walking my dogs alongside the community lake, waiting for a young couple to finish looking at our house.

Two months ago, I was fit and ready for this run, planning my route and rest breaks, and looking forward to a break from training to go hiking in the Adirondacks. I’d be back at work soon, and I felt confident to announce my plan to my family. I had spoken to my mom about it, actually. Even a slight hiccup caused by my spouse forgetting the event and inviting his brother to come visit over the same weekend felt like a trivial thing – I could adjust somehow to that change, and those plans weren’t definite anyway. This run was going to be the highlight of my running year.

BUT— sometimes even the best made plans go awry, and through no fault of our own, those plans fall apart. In this case, the change in plans had to do with a sudden job transfer for my spouse. Out of the blue, unexpected, it was quite the shock to both of us. As a result, instead of spending the next few weeks putting together the final preparations for my upcoming journey run and enjoying two weeks of mountain climbing, we have been back and forth between locations, househunting and house packing, prepping our current home to put up for sale, and fixing up another that we eventually found. In addition, there has been the time and stress of leaving my old job and having to find another (no luck yet). Mix in the need to visit relatives because now we are again moving even further away from them, and making time to help our daughter, who is in college overseas, adjust to this new situation…there is very little time to train or even run at all.

I fully understand and take responsibility for choosing to cancel my run rather than insist upon it; however, it does not in any way negate my sadness. This run was supposed to be one of celebration: one, for my sister, who suffered a heart attack at this time last year, and whose birthday is also on this weekend; and two, for my deceased father, a man whom I loved and a man who had many dreams but for one reason or another failed in them, both for himself and for his family. My relationship with him is something that remains a bit complicated inside. As I prepared for this run, my thoughts increasingly moved toward him. He loved us, I know, and as I visualized this journey, I began to see it as a way to reflect on the good things about my dad and my childhood, and to reflect on the dreams I know he really had for us. One might think that such reflection could happen at any time, but the idea of doing it while running through the length of the Delaware Canal State Park, a place my father loved, seemed to me a way to both honor him and lay some demons to rest.

I feel in a way that this type of internal journey run is something I need even more, now that my life — our lives — are in the midst of considerable change. To be sure, there are wonderful things to look forward to and, after all, I do believe that life is an adventure. I know that I can always train for something else, but I think in the midst of all this upheaval, a run that is only for myself would be a good thing.

Not today though. Instead, I walk along a lake. Maybe the young couple will buy the house.

FOOTNOTE: We did get to hike in the Adirondacks, but on a shorter-than-planned schedule. A magical place – we plan to go back. Seven high peaks in five days, plus some other great hikes! Just a little too busy to write about it at the time.

Staying in for a friend

It rained today.  Normally, I love running in summer rain – it’s warm, the rain feels good splashing across my body as I move, and the colors of the landscape appear muted and hushed.  It’s magical, in a way, and it fills me.  Today, however, I stayed home.  I did not not run, mind you, I did, but inside, on the treadmill.  Was it a cop out, you wonder?  Was I feeling lazy?  No, not at all.  Days like today energize me.  It was, I suppose, guilt.  Yeah, guilt.  In the form of four paws and a pair of elderly eyes that gave me that look as I gathered my gear together.  Loyal eyes that used to gaze out over a mountain bluff with me, that danced with excitement when they spied a deer or a badger or a squirrel, and sparkled with joy while bounding across a field by my side.  Now those eyes are cloudy, excited but a little tired, eager but perhaps feeling a little regret over a body that won’t move quite the way it used to.  Those kind of eyes.  Today, I just couldn’t leave those eyes behind.

Hunny is our well-traveled yellow lab, and she has flown more times than most humans.  She was born in China, moved to Slovakia, then to America, Russia, back to America but on the island state of Hawaii, and finally here, to the mainland state of New York.  It is likely she will have one more move, but it is safe to say, her running days are well behind her.  While we traveled, she was my expedition partner, going with me as I explored parks in China, mountains in Slovakia, and trails in the U.S.  By the time we reached Hawaii, our trips resorted to hiking, not running, and then one day, she let me know the mountains were no longer a place that she could go.  We stuck to walks through gentle parks and along the beaches, pausing to swim in areas where the water was calm.  She loves her walks.  Nowadays, we will go and, if she is up to it, we’ll go for about two miles, taking a rest break in the grass if she needs to.  I usually let her determine which direction we should go.  If we are moving and I see her pause, I ask, “Which way, sweetie,” and she turns her head to let me know, “this way.”  We mosey along, moving where the mood takes her.  Some days, we only make it down the block, then turn back for home again.  That’s okay.  Either way, we finish with me giving her a full-body rub down in the grass.  Currently, that rub-down creates a cloud of soft yellow fur flying all around, as it’s shedding season, but it’s worth it.  Hunny purrs like a cat almost, enjoying the massage.  Her pleasure from the touch of a human has grown as she has aged, it seems.

I am happy to give it.  She has been a part of our family for over twelve years now.  My daughter’s playmate and companion, her comforter and loyal friend.  To me, she has been my constant three-year old, demanding my attention whenever visitors come over, and demanding theirs as well.  She has been our protector and friend, and for several years, she was my running partner.  The only real partner I’ve ever had.  The memories I have of her and I, barreling down hills of snow, pausing along a stream and sharing water, swimming in the ocean…my constant companion in nature.  The first time I realized she could no longer go very far with me was painful for both of us, I believe.  We have learned to accept it, but sometimes, sometimes, I can see the sadness in her eyes as I prepare to leave, and I cannot go through with it.  On those days, like today, I stay home.  I run on a treadmill while she sleeps nearby, and after I am finished, usually as I prepare to do a strength or yoga routine, she comes closer to lay on my towel, nudging for a kiss or a scratch or a pat.  Yes, it is mildly annoying, but it makes me happy too.  Dogs are magical in the way they bring pleasure by asking for your love.  It is their gift, I think.

I do not know how many days Hunny has left on this earth with us.  Some days, I am convinced she has years.  Other days, I worry.  I want to cherish the time with this dog who has given me so much.  If that means copping out on an outside run and a trip of my own to a trail, so be it.  She’s worth it. 


Race Report – Many on the Genny

I called my mom on Sunday to tell her I had finished my race. “All 40 miles?” she asked.

“Well, 42, to be exact.”

“I’m so proud of you.”

“I get it from you, Mom.”

“Me? I can’t run like that!”

“It’s not the running, Mom. You know how to just keep going. You never quit.”

“Aww, babe, thank you.”

I heard the tears in her voice. My mom is the best, and I owe it all to her. ❤️

My race report: