I’ve never been a Believer, in the capital “B” sense of the word, but I have always felt we receive meaningful messages from the humblest sources. Call it fate, call it coincidence, call it humankind’s inexorable craving to find meaning in the void--whatever you call it, that’s what I believe in. And really, where do these messages come from, however we may perceive their source? From within, which is why I find them more powerful and persuasive than any lessons crafted by organized religion.

This was brought home to me recently while I was running in Prospect Park. I’m not a competitive runner, nor a particularly ambitious one. I don’t time myself or measure my pulse; I am not training for anything (except life). Rather, running is something I do three times a week, almost always the same distance, almost always the same route; it’s a ritual, a routine, a few miles to clear my head and work my muscles. In the last few years I’ve taken to running in almost any weather: summer rainstorms, winter snows and everything in between. It takes surprisingly little extra gear to make even the most frigid day an excellent one for a run, and the sense of accomplishment I get from being out in the fresh air--even when when no one else is--is gratifying, as is sticking to my ritual.

For the past few years, there was another constant on my runs: a cheerful, smiling man jogging slowly in the opposite direction to the flow of traffic. Clad in black spandex bike pants and a shiny purple jacket, he’d point both index fingers at me as we passed each other, give me a huge smile and say, “Nice and easy!” At first, I found him comical--his gesture was essentially the Double Isaac--and wondered how on earth he could manage to say that to every single person running past him on the park loop. Yet I grew to appreciate his unflagging enthusiasm, and eventually anticipated seeing him and hearing his words of encouragement. I would nod and smile back, feeling that momentary warmth of making human contact in this city of unparalled, sometimes brutal anonymity. He became a reliable beacon for me.

Nice and Easy!

This fall, when my running ritual resumed--summertime means runs snatched here and there, outside the school year’s reliable routines--Mr. Nice and Easy was gone. At first I assumed our timing must just be off, but it’s now December and I haven't had a single sighting. As much as I hate to admit it, he’s definitely vanished. I really miss him.

So this is where the fate part comes in. In the absence of Mr. Nice and Easy himself, his message has taken up even greater residence in my brain. On almost every run, I imagine him there, and even feel his presence. Sometimes it’s the run itself he’s talking about--don’t push yourself too hard, enjoy it, go with the flow, his ghost urges me. So I do; I breathe more easily, look around at the trees and the grass, relax the parts of my body that are clenching with the effort of pushing uphill.

But recently, as it has begun to sink in that his absence is permanent, I’ve found myself thinking about the larger implications of “nice and easy,” and how much better life would be if we truly took that message to heart. Of course, life is neither nice nor easy much of the time, even for those of us with innumerable blessings and privileges. Parenting, in particular, is not nice and easy. Filled with joy and despair and every emotion in between, yes, but not always so nice, and almost never easy. But what if we try to make it more so--how about settling for nicer and easier? Take a breath, look around you, unclench whatever is hard and uncomfortable in your heart. It may sound facile or glib, but I’ve learned how much getting a little perspective alleviates some of the darkest moments of parenting. And for me, the triteness of the message is moderated by the realness of his presence. Knowing he was an actual person, who chose to pass that message on, over and over, makes the lesson meaningful once again.

So the next time you feel yourself straining against the difficulty, the pain of the moment--whether you’re literally running uphill or trying to be a good parent--take a moment to think about Mr. Nice and Easy, and let him give you the simple gift of perspective too.

What I cooked this week:

  • Potato Latkes
  • Babette Friedman’s Apple Cake  (delicious, though needed much longer baking time than in recipe--perhaps because we used a 10" pan?)
  • Chocolate Mocha Cookies (The Gourmet Cookie Book)
  • Roast Chicken
  • Roasted Salmon and Potatoes with Herb Vinaigrette
  • Pasta with Peppers and Sausages (Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking)
  • Asian Ground Turkey with sticky rice and roasted asparagus (thanks, Melissa!)
  • Flank Steak with Miso Butter (adapted from here)

About the Author

Zanthe Taylor M.F.A.

Zanthe Taylor, M.F.A., is a former dramaturg and English teacher who is currently raising two daughters in Brooklyn, NY.

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