It may be true that people end up choosing hobbies that match their personal sense of the metaphorical. Or maybe we have evolved with brains that are wired to make connections and create metaphors out of whatever we find ourselves doing. In this case, I am not sure which is the cart and which is the horse. But I do know that last weekend I spent both mornings doing things I love. And while doing these things I love, several obvious connections to my life became clear to me.
I spent a few hours Saturday morning preparing our garden. It is still just a little too early to plant much of anything, but before the planting comes the cleanup after a long, snowy winter. We have a tiny patch of grass in front of our house and in the middle of the patch of grass is a roughly-8-foot diameter circle of dirt. Last year three transplanted chrysanthemums were given the run of the place and they went crazy.
Erica and I, as well as many of the passersby who comment on our garden, were impressed by just how prolific these plants were by the end of October. Yet, in spite of their size and overwhelming “florality,” we had independently decided those plants needed to come out this year. So I got the shovel and performed a brutal full-root removal of the three. Once they were gone, the raggedy nature of our little dirt circle became fully clear. The grass was growing over the logs I had used as a border and, in some places, the logs themselves had decomposed and crumbled to dirt as I tried to reposition them.
Without the mum corpses to distract, the patch of ground looked like an unintentional dead spot instead of a garden. I raked out all of the dead leaves, sticks, log bits, and root clumps and put them in a yard waste bag. I took out whatever was left of the border logs and put them in the yard waste bags, too. Yet still the round patch of dirt just looked, well…dirty.
So I went to the backyard storage bin and got out the shovel. I returned with purpose to that dirty circle and planted the tip of the spade right at the border and stepped down on the back edge, pushing the blade all the way in. I then lifted the shovel out, tilted the dirt into the circle, and moved over one shovel-width. In this manner I made my way around the entire patch, creating a neater circle, defining the edge between garden and not-garden much more clearly.
Something about both the violence of the action and the sharpness of the boundary made me feel great.
The following morning I was in Central Park at 7:00. The huge full moon was just going down and bright Vernal Equinox sun was just coming up. There were 10,000 other runners and we were making our way into the starting corrals for the New York City Half Marathon. It was 37 degrees and sparkling clear.
I had been training only moderately hard due to the heavy snows this winter and my very busy January and February. I had no doubts about my ability to finish the race, but I wasn’t sure if I would be able to average less than nine minutes per mile, which was what I wanted to do. The key for me when running a race is to start out slowly. There are often so many people and such a flood of adrenaline that I allow myself to get swept away and I start out far too fast. In New York on Sunday I made myself do the first two miles at a ten-minutes-per-mile pace.
After Mile 2, I did the head-to-toe body check and found that I felt good. My legs were strong, my heart was still beating slowly, my lungs felt fresh, and my brain was in a good place. So I clicked up the pace just one notch and decided to check in again after Mile 5. At the Mile 5 timing clock I saw that I had run Miles 3, 4, and 5 in about 8 minutes and 40 seconds each. And still I felt great. I knew I had three more miles to go in Central Park and then the course would take me down Seventh Avenue to Times Square, over to the Westside Highway, and then down along the Hudson to the finish line near Chambers Street.
When I exited Central Park onto Seventh Avenue a smile spread across my face from ear to ear. It was almost 9 o’clock in the morning and the sun was up high enough to have warmed the air a little. The road was closed to traffic, but the sidewalks were open to spectators and there were thousands of people waving and cheering. Times Square was visible a mile down the road and something about the whole set-up made me giddy. In that moment I felt happier than I have in a long, long time. I felt strong and free and exactly where I wanted to be, doing exactly what I wanted and needed to be doing.
I decided to just forget about the clock and run the last four miles as fast as my body would take me. The course took me west on 42nd Street downhill to the Hudson River, where we turned south on the Westside Highway. The good feeling continued so I kept pushing and before I knew it I was at the finish down by Battery Park in a final pace of 8:13 per mile. The final two miles were both well under eight minutes.
By starting slow and paying attention to how I felt, I had a great race.
I may have gravitated to gardening and running because they present obvious ways for me to think about my life. Or maybe, simply by being human, I use mental free time to find connections between whatever I happen to be doing and my life. Either way, last weekend was literally and metaphorically great.