Last winter, I spent a lot more time in the gym because of the copious amounts of snow and ice on the road.
Normally, I cherish a run in the snow: the powdery quiet, my feet making tracks, the solitude as most people peered out of their windows, wrapped in warmth as I pushed through the icy wind. Mine would be the only footprints I'd see, especially if I started early. It was my time to be alone with the entire world. It was beautiful.
However, I turned to the gym when that bucolic scene turned into two feet of snow piled on roadsides, sidewalks unshoveled and ice covered every conceivable surface. I took my earphones with me and watched way too much "Say Yes to the Dress" and "What Not to Wear." I even met the Kardashians and, by the time spring rolled around, could tell Kourtney from Khloe. (Hey, sometimes "Law & Order" just can't be found.)
As the weather warmed, we shot from freezing to blisteringly hot. Many days I found the heat and humidity simply too much even in the early morning hours. Other days I convinced myself that it was simply too hot and humid in those early morning hours because I secretly wanted to sleep in. Additionally, the area I usually run was under heavy construction: sidewalks were closed so pedestrians were diverted to areas with potholes, backhoes and inattentive drivers in unfamiliar terrain. In short: it was dangerous.
And yet — some days I just have to hit the road.
On those days, I remember why I love to run: it's a chance to be totally free for an hour. Everyone knows my route, from Police and Fire to Public Works and Utilities, so I can be found in case of a true emergency (as opposed to simple urgency). (No, I am not that important, but sometimes my work is.)
This hour of solitude allows me to focus further than an arm's length away and watch the squirrels and butterflies — even catch the bright yellow birds that dart among the flowers in the summer. I hear the sounds of the community: construction, cicadas, fellow athletes.
As I run, I tell myself stories of my own brilliance, courage and wit (because everything is possible when it happens in my brain). I sometimes think of nothing, letting my brain process my footfall into the rhythm of a poem or search for a lead for that story that has stumped me for days.
Disconnection should not be among people, but regarding machines. Tuning into "Cake Boss" can clog my brain from the really important process of thinking and creating. Don't get me wrong, I have been known to zone with "Bridezilla" (much to the shock and dismay of my husband, who just glances at me from time to time, wondering what happened to his reasonable wife).
More importantly, we need to disconnect from the tidal wave of intel relentlessly pouring into our brains via phone, computer, BlackBerry, iPod.
We all need the humbling realization that a missed phone call is not a tragedy, an e-mail will remain in the inbox until we address it (and, if we're lucky, will have been addressed by someone else in the meantime).
This helps me realize how I am important to the important people in my life does not depend on the computer that helped me compose this essay — but is a tool that helps us connect when we can. Only when we disconnect can we truly connect in a way that's meaningful.