Some creep was trailing me. He resembled a bald cabbage patch doll with round, bright eyes stamped onto a plump-cheeked face and a doughy body stuffed into some overalls. He licked his teeth frequently and would sometimes erupt into a fit of dry, harsh giggles . I could hear his feet smacking onto the asphalt park trail, never letting up. At least, that was what I imagined as I sped along, the goal being to torch some calories. Sometimes I needed to make up a good story to accelerate my walking pace.
I’d been to this park more times than I could remember. As a little ragamuffin I clambered over the playground equipment and played hide and seek in the miniature Western town that you could mosey on over to. The trail that follows the perimeter of the park is a little over one mile. I hustled on until I stopped to smell the roses. Truly, I did stop at the rose garden and smelled them. They reminded me of my grandmother’s house and her bathroom soaps. Ever wonder where certain phrases come from? Stop and smell the roses supposedly came into use in the 1960s. In golfer Walter Hagen’s autobiography he wrote, “Don’t hurry. Don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.” This bit was paraphrased as stop and smell the roses, a reminder to take time and savor the beauty around you and relax, enjoy life. Slow down.
I didn’t stop and slow down for long. I continued past a small fountain, reflecting on the week’s events. I hadn’t been sleeping well and consequently, was making more mistakes at work. I would go to bed at the same time every night and wake up exactly 4 hours later, unable to fall asleep again. I’d heard people complain about insomnia before but I didn’t realize how much it could crush a person until I experienced it. I’d lie awake for hours and when the alarm finally went off I’d have a headache brewing. One of my eyes might be twitching. My brain trudged through a thick sludge. That was one reason I was exercising, to help wear my body down and promote better quality sleep. An older lady taking a leisurely stroll passed me, looking me directly in the eyes and smiling sweetly – such a genuinely bright smile. Made me think she must really appreciate life – each day a gift. That got me thinking about “mitakpa,” a Himalayan term I’d read about that means impermanence – the cornerstone of Buddhist teachings. We will all die some day. Confronting death and preparing for it makes you see things differently. When you remember that death is imminent your mind can focus on what really makes you happy and change course so you don’t have any regrets. I hadn’t forgotten about death. I’d been reading articles about how not sleeping is the new smoking and how it would take years off your life. Instead of looking forward to bedtime I was now anxious as I slipped under the covers and turned off the light.
As I neared the pond, I saw a man and his athletic dog standing by the water. I could tell he was talking, at first I thought to himself, but then I realized he had one of those ear pieces in. I suddenly perked up as I heard him say, “I’m all about the future – aren’t you interested?” Why yes, yes I am, I answered him silently. I’ve always been interested in the future and futurism. He continued, “Which quarterback is going to be stronger this year? Is it – “ I tuned out at that point, disinterested in sports talk. Way to ruin it, pal.
I rounded the short side of the oblong pond and spied 14 turtles on a log. They rested on top of one another like a reptilian conga line. I spied the entrance to a forest trail and did not hesitate to slip into the woods. I wandered along the soft dirt path for a little while, enjoying the break from people. As I emerged from the greenery there was a small creek to cross with a few haphazard stones. I played a game hopping this way and that, just as Winnie the Pooh might do. That bumbling bear always made me happy. When I had successfully crossed without getting wet, I noticed a lady and her dog watching me with interest not far away. She smiled. I smiled. I temporarily forgot about sleepless nights and death.