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As heartache and tragedy take a toll, we can find solace in community

When I head out for a run, I’m looking for escape.

I visualize leaving my troubles, my worries and even my responsibilities at the side of the track, treadmill or trail.

Freedom isn’t always immediate. Sometimes my soul is weighed with significant issues and it takes several miles before I feel like I’m breaking free. Often what I find is that if I can leave the cloud of chaos that has me feeling overwhelmed and incapable, I find clarity.

I find calm. And eventually, I find joy again.

On good days, I return to the "real world" with a lightness and a strength that allows me to do the very tasks that felt impossible before my run or workout.

With that said, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about a workout that included dozens of energetic children. But after interviewing Aaron and Mandie Dokos and Judah and Kira Dokos, owners of Pure Workout, about a special fundraising class they were holding to support the family of Memorez Rackley, who was shot and killed along with her 6-year-old son, Jase, last Tuesday, I decided this was how I wanted to spend my Sunday morning.

I wanted to go to the family exercise class that Rackley and her three boys often attended for reasons I can’t really explain. I wanted to offer some small token of support to a family that is suffering in ways I cannot imagine.

So I entered the gym without expecting peace. I did not expect to leave my baggage at the door, like I do on my runs. I did not think it was possible because the purpose of the workout was so heartbreakingly sad and the environment seemed extraordinarily chaotic.

I was wrong, as usual, in just about every way.

I met my friend Jennifer Taylor and her adorable, feisty, strong-willed daughter, Ashley, at the class, which began with an emotional introduction from Mandie Dokos, who teaches the class every Sunday.

After some stretching, we let Uno cards dictate both the number of exercises and what we did. Ashley did the card-picking for us, and somewhere between bag tossing squats and bear crawls, I felt the ache in my chest receding.

We’re not supposed to care too much in this job. It makes it difficult when a writer’s connection to her subjects becomes too personal. Affection and concern cloud one’s judgment and make it tough to see clearly the issues that surround individual circumstances.

It’s one of the gifts of this job. And it is one of the curses.

Connect, understand, empathize. And then try and be something dispassionate, disconnected and objective.

It is just not how I'm wired. My nature is to get down in the mud with my subjects, to wade into the pain, dive into the isolation and feel the weight of the challenges as they explain how they cope and what they learn. Our journeys together don't feel distant or theoretical, and sometimes, I have trouble retaining perspective.

This last week has been especially difficult for this cry baby masquerading as a journalist. Talking to mothers who’ve lost children just starting their lives; covering a memorial service for one of the first Olympic athletes I covered who made me feel like I might be able to write about other people’s glory; talking with Memorez friends about the hole that has been slashed into their lives by the callousness of the shooting that killed her, her son and wounded two other children.

And then I learned that Brad Jensen had unexpectedly passed away this week. Brad was one of those readers who started writing to me when his son was in high school.

He’d point out facts and flaws and offer story ideas. He was never offended when I declined, and he was endlessly helpful when I undertook one of his ideas. We struck up a friendship that was based on our mutual love of prep sports.

He was so full of “west side pride” that he made me even more proud that I’d chosen Taylorsville as my home when I started my own family. He was generous with his time, and patient with my erratic and crowded schedule.

I get to know a lot of parents, and some do a lot more than alert me to great stories. They become advocates for school communities that are often overlooked and public relations specialists for children who deserve a moment in the spotlight. He just sent me a moving video last Tuesday, and then on Thursday, he was gone.

Too many reminders of how fragile this mortal experience is. By Saturday night, I felt too battered, too raw and too sad to believe any workout could be soul-soothing.

But there I was, delighted to chase Ashley Taylor around the gym. I’d wrapped myself in heartache and it had made me tired. Exercise after exercise unwrapped those layers of fatigue.

I was moved by Ashley’s intrigue with the workout, and really with the energy of all of the children running from station to station with the kind of enthusiasm I’d pay money to have most days.

When I left, my muscles were tired but my heart was full. The little gym where Rackley spent so many early mornings working out raised nearly $2,000 for her family. But more importantly, they offered people who loved her a way to do something in the face of senseless violence.

The sadness I feel about the loss of good, loving people isn’t gone, but it feels bearable. And maybe, most importantly, I was reminded that when the world feels jagged and dangerous, we don’t need more isolation. We need, desperately, to seek solace in community.

It is only through the affection and friendship of others that we can possibly hope to bear the cruel realities of life.