I read an article about happiness recently (they are hard to miss, thanks to Gretchen Rubin!). And while I consider myself a fairly happy person, (despite some healthy cynicism and touch of anxiety), everyone can up their happiness game once in a while.
And like most happiness articles it focuses on feeling grateful and how taking the time to feel gratitude can literally change the wiring in your brain so you are a happier person. I don't know if that is true or not, but a focus on appreciating what you have can't be a bad thing -- even if it doesn't cause those synapses to fire in rainbows all the time.
And I am grateful. Though I won't bore you with my list -- but I know that my life is charmed. If I could use blessed (#Blessed!) in a non-ironic way, I would even say that.
But when I got nominated to be a PanAm torchbearer I did not feel grateful. I felt embarrassed. And not worthy. Of all the people around me I'm the least likely to be a torchbearer. I am not sporty at all, our family doesn't watch sports. Everyone knows that I do not run -- ever. Even my trainer gave up on that. Plus, I'm extremely klutzy.
My best friend who saves children's lives? Better choice. Her husband who does cancer research and LOVES the games with his whole heart? Also a better choice. My friend who applied online and who does half marathons and embodies the notion of sport and health? Better choice.
But they didn't get picked I did. President's Choice who is a PanAm sponsor put my name forward, and I was grateful to them for thinking of me. (We all know that my heart (and dollars) belong to Loblaws and PC.)
My husband thought it was great and he insisted that I do it. So I quietly filled out the forms on the last day, and I didn't tell anyone. My kids didn't know, my parents didn't know.
As the day approached I kept thinking about getting out of it. But my stalwart husband kept telling me to get over myself. So on Sunday at 3pm, we drove to the appointed meeting place -- a community centre in Scarborough and met up with the other torchbearers. They were all thrilled and excited, I was still a little embarrassed and awkward and a little panicked about how far 200 metres is. I had done a little training -- meaning I had jogged slowly up my back alley with my dog, just to make sure I didn't puke after running two blocks.
I got my outfit -- the shirt was enormous on me. Embarrassingly large. I noticed that no one else had a shlumpy-looking shirt on but most of them looked like athletes, not a 40-something WAHM mom. So, I just figured it was my lot to look even more ridiculous. A PanAm employee came to my rescue , and got me the right size. Seemed they had slipped a men's shirt into my package instead of a woman's. The new shirt totally changed my outlook on the day.
After an embarrassing torchbearer warm-up and introduction circle, the Pan Am staff told us about our "torchbearer journey". And I can say, with absolutely no cynicism or irony, the staff are amazing. They are the kind of young people that you want your kids to turn into. They are enthusiastic, kind, lots of fun and super-organized. The timing and operational intricacies of this event is mind boggling. And they do it around the world. I was runner 108, they had over 140 runners on that day. My group was 20 people. We were a motley crew that included a retired Beach Volleyball player, a shrink who banks at CIBC, a CIBC worker, a pharmacist, a teen volunteer. About half of the group were through sponsors (like me) and the other half volunteered on the PanAm website.
The torchbearers have the far easiest job in the convoy. The torch bearers run in a "box" -- it's a human box made up of burly police officers who surround you on every side. In front of the box is a truck with two people pointing massive cameras at you. In front of them are police cars and cops on bikes and motorcycles. Behind the "box" is more trucks and police. It's a huge convoy. And I was supposed to "trot gracefully" in the middle, as my mother said.
There are also PanAm staff who are on bikes who meet each torchbearer at their appointed stop and guide them through their run. The bikers are leapfrogging each other to make sure that you are never standing all by your lonesome at your spot.
The torchbearers are on a shuttle bus that travels a few hundred metres in front of the convoy. We were carrying our torches already, it is just the flame that is passed. (I can buy a torch for $550 but I guess I will just treasure this blog post instead). They drop you at your spot just a few minutes before the flame arrives.
The shuttle bus had a party atmosphere with lots of cheering and selfie-taking.
After about 20 minutes, or an eternity, it was finally my turn. Hayley the enthusiastic group leader cheers me off and then I step into ... a giant wall of people waiting for me!
Seems that spot 108 was in a No Frills parking lot and the store had gone all out. They had snacks, and a bullhorn and were setting up for a media event. And that media event was for the flame -- and by extension me.
I stood awkwardly facing the crowd as the runner carrying a lighted torch ran up to transfer the flame to my torch and start on my 200-metre journey. But wait, said the Loblaws guy, we need pictures! And so number 107 and I had to stand there touching torches while everyone took pictures. People even took selfies. The manager with the bullhorn introduced us, and we took more pictures. My husband is giving me the "smile harder" look. And my police bodyguards were starting to look mean.
Eventually my hunky police detail yelled "no more pictures" and crowded around me like I was the Brangelina clan exiting LA airport. They shuffled me through the parking lot towards the street. Now was my turn to run -- but no! Traffic had built up during our photo op. So I stood there in my white polyester outfit as the police detail yelled "no more pictures!" and Deanna my PanAm runner kept reminding me to hold the torch with the logo out.
Finally we were on the move. I was lightly jogging, smiling, waving, I was like the Queen but without the matching hat and fugly shoes. Cars were honking, I was trying to remember to suck in my gut for the pictures and not worry about my double chin and then suddenly we were at Stop 109.
Deanna directed me to runner 109, we touched torches posed for more photos (gut sucked in!) and then I was done. The flame started moving west towards downtown Toronto and I had done my job carrying the flame through the parking lot and a block of Eglinton East.
And I was grateful.