Sunday, September 4, 2016

Taking the Long View

Victory Memorial Parkway. Photo from Minneapolis Parks.
Last night, my son, Jasper, and I went for a walk.  We live near a very special park called Victory Memorial Parkway.  It's a 3 mile stretch of road bordered by green space that pays tribute to the 568 men from Hennepin County who lost their lives in World War I. Five-hundred and sixty-eight trees, evenly spaced, line the parkway, each with a plaque on the ground beneath bearing the name of a lost soldier. It's easy to take for granted this open space, but when you take a moment to ponder what this space represents, it's really an impressive thing.

It is especially impressive to think about the people who dreamed up this monument. It probably took several years to plan and bring to fruition. Charles M. Loring was known as the "Father of Parks" in Minneapolis, and he was the driving force behind the parkway (as well as most of the other parks in the city - you can read more about him here). The memorial was dedicated in 1921, and he died in 1922. He never got to see the parkway as he had envisioned it, with a canopy of full-grown stately elm trees lining its length. Trees grow far too slowly. But he gave more than $50,000 of his own money to make sure the trees of the parkway would continue to be cared for, even though he was never going to see them in their glory. This was someone who did not do things for instant gratification. He took the long view.  He did them because it was the right thing to do.

I am not so good at taking the long view.  I'm guessing most of us aren't. We like things to happen, and we like them to happen right now, thank you very much. We don't like to delay gratification. We want the bowl of ice cream tonight, even if we know the calories might add to our waistlines.  We know we should go to bed early to make getting up easier, but we stay up late to watch one more episode of "Stranger Things" on Netflix.  We know we should exercise, but it's hard, and sweaty, and this chair is pretty comfy and there's something new on Facebook that I haven't seen yet.

It often takes a lot of time to see results too, so the motivation has to be pretty strong to make yourself do things you don't really want to do. Exercise is one of those things we don't necessarily want to do. Yet research shows that vigorous exercise of 30 minutes or more at least five times a week is crucial for helping to keep cancer at bay. It changes the way that hormones are produced in the body and, it doesn't matter what kind of cancer you have. It's protective against almost all of them. We aren't talking about taking a 30 minute stroll. It has to be vigorous enough to make you feel almost like you are jogging - about 3.8 miles per hour, and you have to do this more than once or twice week. You can't just do a long, hard day on the weekend and expect it to count. It has to be more days than not. Anything less is just not effective. Isn't that annoying?

Of course, I've known for years that exercise is important. I've flirted with biking, walking, stair climbing, jogging, and such on and off over the years, but I've never developed a steady, long-term habit. You'd think the potential to die from cancer would be a strong motivating force for me to keep at it, but that just doesn't seem to be enough.

Today is my birthday. I've never been a big "celebrate my birthday" kind of person, but the reminder that birthdays are not foregone conclusions makes a person rethink things. So, I'm going to celebrate this birthday by setting some goals. I want to be able to run a mile without needing to stop.  I want to be more generous. I want to find ways to make people smile.  I want to be able to do at least 15 push ups (full Russian style). I want to give more than I get.  I want to write more songs.  I want to have another birthday. And then another. And then how about a few more?

I bought a Fit Bit as an early birthday present. Goals are good motivators, but it turns out that instant gratification is pretty powerful. It's a little silly that it takes a plastic band around my wrist telling me how many steps I have gone and how many "active" minutes I have completed today to get me out the door and moving, but it seems to work where fear of potential death does not. Crazy, huh?  I have been out walking, briskly, almost every day since I got it. Apparently, a little Huzzah! vibration on my wrist when I meet my step and activity goal is just what the doctor ordered. I guess we all just need someone to remind us of our goals and to tell us, occasionally, that we are doing a good job.

I'm trying to take the long view. I'm trying to set into motion the things that will make me healthier and life even better. I'm trying to take a page from Charles Loring's playbook and think about how to make this world a more beautiful place. Set enough aside to share with others. Pick up that piece of trash in the street, plant flowers, walk in the community every day and get to know my neighbors. Each little thing contributes to making life a little better.  Little things, done every day, add up to big things down the road.

Whatever we are doing that is hard, be it wanting to run a marathon or walk a block, or maybe even just wanting to get through to the next week, look at today. Look at what you can do today. Know that your effort today will pay off in some way. We may never even see the results for a long time, but we know that some good will have been done along the way.

And by the way, you are doing a good job.


  1. Just the very message I needed today. Thank you, DeAnn!

  2. Lovely pic, lovely parkway, lovely person.