Finding a cheerleader

I am very lucky to have Shirley as my nextdoor neighbour. She is in her eighties and lives alone. She’s more mentally and physically capable than some forty year olds I know. She takes loving care of her garden in the front and back every day. She takes an interest in my kids and always chats with them and asks them questions about their lives. She is generous of her space with our cat who assumes Shirley’s garden is an extension of our own and actually likes it better than ours.

One of my favourite things about Shirley is that she always has a kind, positive thing to say. We don’t know each other extremely well. We exchange pleasantries and small talk and can rely on each other for neighbourly things. She is there to help my daughter unlock the front door when she’s struggling with the key. I have run errands for her during the height of the pandemic when it was riskier for her to be out. But what I really love about my relationship with Shirley is that unbeknownst to her, she has become my personal cheerleader for my running.

One time a few summers ago I was struggling mightily on a long run. It was one of those hot humid days where I felt off from the start. I forced it for longer than I should have and it turned into one of those walk/slogs where you’re not sure if you’re actually going to make it back. I finally turned down my street and as I made it towards my house, there was Shirley working in her garden. I had been mentally beating myself up for the good part of an hour and feeling quite sorry for myself and dejected. “Well Hello!” said Shirley. “I’ve just had a very bad long run,” I complained. She asked how far I went (I think just to be polite – I’m not sure she has a strong reference point for long runs) and then said “Well. I think it’s amazing that you went! Good for you!” I don’t know if it’s her genuine delivery with an expression of real feeling and a smile, but her words really made me feel better.

Another time I had procrastinated and wasn’t getting out for my “morning” run until mid-afternoon. Again, I saw Shirley in her garden as I was heading out. “I can’t believe I’ve left it so late. Now I don’t have much time for a longer run,” I confessed. “But look at you! You’re doing it! Good for you!” – again, the same positive, genuine, encouraging delivery. Suddenly I felt better about myself.

I won’t lie – I’ve now become a little addicted to my running affirmations from Shirley. I look for her whenever I head out or come back so that I can report something and she can make me feel better. Of course I complement her garden in return. Something generic like “your flowers look so beautiful – thank-you for brightening the street!” I probably know less about gardening than she does about distance running. But it doesn’t matter. We cheer each other on in our own pursuits and I hope we both feel better for the small boosting interactions. I know I always do.

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