Thanksgiving is upon us, already. It seems as if it were just yesterday that I sat here extolling the magic of summer breaking, and in the blink of an eye it is gone… along with autumn. And as we have all known for quite some time now, this will be a vastly different Thanksgiving, thanks to the pandemic (pun half-heartedly intended). This year will mean isolation for many, sorrow for some, but different for all. But the meaning of the day should not, cannot, be lost in all the acrimony over politics and all the fear and panic over the pandemic. It is a time to stop and reflect for our blessings and to give thanks for them. This year, perhaps especially so.
I am thankful that I do not have to get up at 4AM every day and go to work. I loved work, but it was time; time to tend to my wife, my kids, and my grandkids. Time to tend to my yard, to my garden. Time to enjoy life while there is still time to do so. And I am thankful I am able to do that. I am thankful that I still have my health. Oh… I am missing some hearing and missing some visual acuity, but I am essentially intact and still able to most everything I always have such as hiking and all the tree work I still do myself. I have not run in years, but it was more my knee that stopped me than anything else and I am considering trying to run again once spring arrives next year; and I am thankful for that.
What I find truly ironic is how thankful I am for everything in my life yet how impatient and brusque I can be; it boggles my mind. I’ve worked extremely hard for my entire life to reach this pinnacle and now that I am here, at times I don’t seem to appreciate it. Grumpy old man is more than a colloquialism, more than a saying; it is a real condition. I used to joke that when I got older I would stand at my fence and shake my fist at the cars speeding past the house. And honestly, I am pretty much almost there!
And I hate it; it is not my nature, yet here I am. I know the hate and discontent in our country bothers me intently. And I know that the pandemic is really weighing on me; I have written this many times but one the really important rewards of retirement for me was to go out for breakfast. And I have not done that in ten months… with no future possibility in reasonable sight. Cape Cod and Salem, both treasured three-day trips, are in the distant past and nowhere in the foreseeable future. And that really annoys me. And it annoys me that it annoys me, if that makes any sense? I am thankful for all I have: my family and my home – my wooded playground – and I will work harder to let the small stuff slide and to focus on the positive. I suspect that once this pandemic is over and in the past, that my demeanor will improve.
I had a tree taken down yesterday; some months ago the electric utility spotted it as both dead and a threat to the power lines beneath it and flagged it for removal. They asked if I wanted the wood, which of course I did, so they cut it into 2’ to 4’ sections and let it drop to the ground. All well and good until the they got deeper into the meat of the tree where diameters increased – and the weight with it. It wasn’t long until I got to sections too heavy to carry and I had to roll them. The trunk was the worst, largest diameter, greatest weight, and farthest from my desired end destination being on the street side of the fence and right next to the road. It was in two pieces, a 5’ section and the absolute bottom coming in at around 8’ long; estimated weight – over 1600 pounds. Of course I cut it into pieces where it lay, but even at that, rolling those monsters to the splitting pile kicked my butt. And I enjoyed every second of it!!
The exhaustion and aches associated with an excessive and prolonged effort is such a sweet feeling. To push yourself to, and maybe somewhat beyond, your limits is just so rewarding. It reminds me of being young and unstoppable, which of course, I am no longer. But the feeling during, and after, is just so rewarding, like you fought a battle and you won. And the beauty of this is that there is no magic number, no total weight, no elapsed time, no specific value of any nature to declare the effort a win or a loss. Rather, that effort, that expenditure of energy, no matter how large or small, counts as a win as long as it took you to your personal limit, whatever that may be.
I recall trying to bend my knee again after my first knee surgery. Back then, there was no such thing as arthroscopic, it was old-school: open up the knee and go in to have a look. It was highly invasive and believe it or not, resulted in a hospital stay of several days. So getting mobility back was a big deal. And each day I would work it to my limit and then give up from the pain. But just about every day resulted in a tiny gain in mobility, even if just a miniscule degree of flex. And eventually, it all came back.
Similarly, when running and trying to best a time. It doesn’t come in big reductions in time, it comes over time with little increases as little as a second sometimes. But cumulatively, after enough time goes by, look at how far you came and how your elapsed times improved. Each run was a battle to your personal limits and each day resulted in a victory – or at least most every day (we all have off days).
Life is so the same. We need to challenge ourselves. We need to stretch our limits, regardless of what exactly those limits may be. It could be increasingly difficult walks or hikes or even runs. It could be distance on your bike. It could be complexity or duration of aa yoga session. It could be more difficult crossword puzzles. The point is, you can challenge yourself physically, mentally, and even emotionally. But the goal remains the same: stretch yourself and aim to go a little past your limit and to grow from it. It is fulfilling, it is satiating, and it is how we grow as people.
Happy Thanksgiving dear reader. I hope you are in a good place and find many things to be thankful for on this virus-overshadowed holiday. Stay well!