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My Friend Marcus Has Chickens

Chickens, Barns, and Running

My friend Marcus has chickens.

One Sunday early this spring I drove south of the city to visit Marcus, his husband Earl, their dog Cedric, and their new baby chickens. It was cold and sunny. I had coffee for the drive. It had rained for 10 hours one day the week before, so the snow was gone and everything was bare and exposed and ready. I felt content, I think. Somewhere in between happy and sad. Kind of waiting and ready for something, like the scene out of my car window. Here in Minnesota we search for signs of spring at this point, and we will take any bone nature throws us. I was headed to the farm, because surely baby chickens were that sign I was looking for. 

I stepped out of the car and got a celebrity greeting from Cedric, urban cockapoo turned farm dog, and I looked out over their kingdom:  land, a red barn at the bottom of the hill, a mobile chicken coop under construction, gardens at rest, and the most beautiful, unpretentious, intentionally designed modern farmhouse you'll ever see.

I stood in the same spot a few hours later feeling full and awestruck, taking another look, taking a deep breath to absorb it all. I've known Marcus for 30 years, since we worked together in a group  home after college. Our lives have criss crossed and our connection has deepened over the years, and the whole time I've watched this man live this modest and abundant life of learning and experiences:  Marcus is a waiter, Marcus is a potter, Marcus is getting his Masters Degree, Marcus is becoming a Master Gardener. Marcus is buying a duplex, the duplex almost burns to the ground. Marcus rebuilds it. Marcus's duplex needs siding, he teaches himself how to do that. Marcus sees the stack of water color paintings my toddler daughter made and asks what I'm going to do with them. I say I don't know, I feel bad just throwing them out, and he asks if he can have them. Absolutely he can. A few weeks later he shows up with the most beautiful piece of art, a hand holding a bouquet of flowers inspired by Picasso, made entirely of her watercolors. To him it's a gift, to me, the beginning of an heirloom. He built a deck. He taught me how to make hard cider. He designed a home--he designed a life. He dreams and does research and takes action--quiet, humble, step by step--until one day I am standing in this spot looking out over the picture of that life.

I drove home in full contemplation mode, as I always do. Being in their home is like stepping inside someone else's dream. There is not one corner of that place that exists without reason. I would dare anyone to spend an afternoon there and not come away reflecting on their own life. That's what good art does. In addition, they are kind and generous, so effortlessly sharing their home--it was designed for that. Thoughtfulness was the driving force in that blueprint.

Why do I feel such a sense of longing when I drive away? It's not envy, it's longing. It's a longing for my life to have that kind of intention. It's a longing for my life to have a design. It's a fear that I'm not capable of doing that. It's a fear that it's too late. 

And then I think about running. It's why I love it so, it's why I cling to it. Structure and design are built in, along with meaning and a sense of purpose. It's why I love my coach--the architect who has made blue print after blue print, listening and coaching me through why I want this door here and this window here, helping me to take this design and make it personal. And then, eventually, pushing me to take part in the design itself, teaching me how to measure and feel and build. Because I'm the one who has to live in it, after all.

When I stand in the farm house I feel like I see Marcus & Earl, like really see them. When I stand outside of the farm house and walk to the gardens and along the mowed path in the fields, I see them. When I see designs for the new barn I see the bold vision of their lives taking further shape. The old red barn looks right sitting there, but it isn't functional. In fact, it has lost it's integrity and usefulness and it's coming down. That's not easy; it looks really cool. But it has to come down to make space for something new, something equally beautiful but different. And functional. And abundant. To keep the old red barn is to embrace scarcity and the fear of change. To build the new barn is betting on a dream and abundance in form.

All of that is what running is for me, what the last six years of my life have been. When I stand inside the experience of the past six years I see myself. I've taken down some old red barns of my own, but there might be a couple more that need to go. They look right standing there, but there's nothing inside. And they are standing in the way of progress. This is what running has given me: the ability to look at my life honestly and build a vision. I so desperately wanted running to give me what looks "right" in the world of running: increasingly faster PR's, a runner's body, maybe a little recognition. I love running (and I hate it, too). I'm loyal. I study it. I follow the sport. I'm genuinely in, but sometimes feel betrayed. Running never promised me speed, but more days than not I would trade speed and a runner's body for all that Running has given me. I'm embarrassed to say that, but it's true. And I think that means that running still has more work to do on me. I think Running reads that and lets out a big sigh. I think Running sees me like a teenager who can occasionally look up from teenage life and angst and hormones and say to their parents thank you, I see what you're doing for me here, but, for the most part, Running, like a parent, has to wait until I become an adult in the sport and we can have a relationship with more maturity and equilibrium. It will come. I'm only six years in.

I went back to the farm a couple of weeks ago and those chickens are BIG! Not quite adults, but looking the part and figuring out life, kind of like me as a runner.

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