Flowers, Friendship & Functional Fitness


This week, my last week at my little flop house in Florida, I took a much needed break to rest my body and my mind (heavy emphasis on the mind.) But not running a USATF road race doesn’t mean I can watch the Bridget Jones trilogy eating Ben & Bernie & Jerrys. I had crap to do.

I decided to plant a garden. A few important facts about this:

  1. I kill silk plants.
  2. I do not know how to plant, what to plant or have the spacial awareness to know where to plant.
  3. Gardening is hard work. Hauling 30 bags of mulch from greenhouse to car, car to garage, garage to garden isn’t for wimps.

Exercise isn’t just running miles on the track or treadmill. Its being fit enough for every day life. I’m not a crossfitter, but I do see the need for functional fitness – having a core strength that enables you to do pretty much anything you need to do safely and quickly. Crossfitters are a rare breed. They train you to be able to run through the African jungle in 110 heat carrying a wounded rhino being chased by rabid hyenas. While a noble goal, I think functional fitness means having a core strength that allows you to lift your child often and easily, run up 3 flights of stairs with groceries (and not have to stop for a nap) and haul some mulch.

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A few notable things happened while I was knee deep in dirt, sand and fire ants:

  1. I met some neighbors. Turns out, gardening is quite communal.
  2. I felt the incredible satisfaction that gardeners must feel when their first tomato or turnip appears – though mine was just about laying mulch.
  3. The sexiest Rabbi in NYC was right

In 2003, New York Magazine named Rabbi Brickner the “Sexiest Rabbi in New York.” He was the long time love of my “spiritual well” Marcia Lawrence Soltes. He wrote a book called Finding God in the Garden. It is a wonderful book about God, love, life and coneflowers. I thought of him, of her, of their wonderful retreat in Stockbridge, Massachusetts where I have stayed many, many times since childhood. The property is lined with mature trees, flowering bushes and magnificent rhododendron.

Our relationship with Marcia started before I was born. Her first husband, Rabbi Soltes, was a handsome, talented and tender man from New York City who would volunteer to come up to West Point to lead the handful of Jewish cadets in services in the 1960’s and 70’s. When my father became Chaplain, they became fast friends. It was that friendship that laid the foundation for our life long relationship with Marcia and for building the Jewish Chapel at the Academy  (a project my father spearheaded but rarely gets enough credit for). After Rabbi Soltes died, our relationship with Marcia deepened.

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The seeds were planted, the soil was fertilized through shared experiences, the roots took hold and the flowers grew.

Gardening is a natural illustration of friendship. Planted, watered, fertilized, weeded out – all things we have to do to our “friends list.” Sometimes we have to weed out the bad seeds, the ones with shallow roots, the ones that attract bugs and disease. All our friends need fertilizing – phone calls, emails, text messages of “thinking of you…”, running a road race together or running out for coffee. Gardens and relationships (and our bodies!) take work. If we neglect them, they wither and die or get lost to the forrest.

Erma Bombeck, my favorite author of all time said,

“Friends are ‘annuals’ that need seasonal nurturing to bear blossoms. Family is a ‘perennial’ that comes up year after year, enduring the droughts of absence and neglect. There’s a place in the garden for both of them.”

I’m not sure i’ll be winning any Biggest Pumpkin awards or producing my own autumnal harvest. But I know I can do it. I know I can tackle the physical challenge of hoeing, churning yards and yards of earth, hauling, digging, and squatting. (Tabata squats anyone?)

I know, as Brickner’s book reminds us, God is in the garden. He put in place the life cycle – birth, growth and death. I know my friends, my fitness, my faith and my flowers need work to produce something. They all need regular care, time and attention to bloom.

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Categories: family, running, UncategorizedTags: , , ,

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