There's a park across the street from my office building; the company bought the land, added stadium-quality grass, a regulation basketball court, a few volleyball nets, and some palapas with picnic tables underneath. On a sunny day, and most days are, there's always someone out there: soccer games at noon, pickup basketball after work, cell biologists and marketers and IT guys getting ready for the next company volleyball tournament. That lovely turf is always a bit longer than it should be, ridiculously green, making you want to tear off your shirt and roll around in it, itchiness be damned. The park is ringing by a dirt track. I think it's a quarter mile.
A few weeks ago, finally free of the crutches and the brace and the limp, I decided to start doing a lap or two during lunchtime. Walking, of course; running was still a few months away. Looked at one way, several weeks; looked at another, eons. We'd had a cool summer, so I wouldn't have to worry about unslightly pitstains or crack-sweat darkening the back of my khakis. I needed the exercise. Four months ago I could keep up a sprint-and-fade pace for a few hours, tackling guys who had twenty pounds on me, getting slammed to the ground and popping back up again and again and again. Now my ass was getting kicked by physical therapy; all it took was a few unweighted squats and I was sucking wind. Pathetic.
But it was more than just physical sloth. I was in a funk. I don't believe in Writer's Block - my theory is that if you have it, you're in the Horse Latitudes of your life, the winds ain't blowing anything worth writing about in your direction, and if you just relax and ride it out, those winds will pick back up - but I do believe in Blogger Burnout. I was fucking sick of it all - talk of brands, blog conferences, Twitter followers, Klout scores, Alexa rankings, the latest drama, the endless cycle of asskissing and shit-talking, the cries of Community über Alles. When you sit in front of a computer for hours on end, you can't escape it, try as you might. Silent chatter as loud as a jackhammer. What I needed was a break from all of that white noise. A few minutes of a different kind of quiet, the quiet of passing cars and jets overhead and the crunch of gravel under foot, the hum of lawnmowers and fragments of conversation, actual conversation, the voices that I sometimes forget I have, stuck as I am in The Matrix.
So, walking. I'd done this a few times, and those fifteen or so minutes were like hours spent soaking in a particularly soothing bath. Clear head, clear thoughts, sometimes about a work project, sometimes about what Beth and the kids might be doing, sometimes about where my long-gestating book was headed, sometimes about nothing at all. Breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth, relax, keep moving. Occasionally the knee would throb in protest. And I'd ignore it. I got to know that trail pretty well - where the muddy spots were after the timed sprinklers went off, where the treacherous divots were, what time the runners typically liked to light out.
A few days back, when I was in a particularly foul and self-pitying mood (my wife and a bunch of our friends were whooping it up in New York, at BlogHer, and I'd had just about enough of Trader Joe's Frozen Indian Dinners and nights spent watching reruns of Deadliest Catch), I noticed the tree. I tell the kids all the time: "Eyes up when you walk. You gotta look out for people, 'cause they aren't looking out for you", but I wasn't walking the walk, so to speak. I'd left my sunglasses back at my desk, and was walking with downcast eyes to avoid the ol' retina-fry. Had I been looking up, I'd have missed it, the objects that caused me to freeze in my tracks. Of course the tree and its two accompanying monuments weren't brought there by any wind, symbolic or otherwise. I stood there, transfixed, read the writing a few times. Thinking about time, and what we do with it, how we measure our worth, and how our worth is measured by others. And If I believed in such things, I'd swear that long, living grass bent towards that tree, a respectful, mournful bow.