This past weekend, I was pushing the lawnmower around my yard, and I was thinking about metaphors. I wanted to find some meaning in the work that I was doing. I wanted it to be deeper than the chore that I was performing. I wanted it to be bigger than the maintenance that I was doing once more in a series. I thought about the dandelions that I had dug up just prior to cutting the grass. I thought about how they were part of the lawn, but primarily because I had allowed them to be there. How were they like the children at my school? Weeds? I may have been stretching for meaning.
When I moved on to the front lawn, I left the search for the big picture behind. Instead I focused on the task at hand: making all the green stuff in the yard approximately the same height. Parallels to public education tried to sneak their way into my head, and so I turned the task into something even more deliberate: I would inscribe my younger brother's name in the grass with the aid of a gas mower.
I worked quickly, but deliberately. At each point, I considered what each letter must look like from above. I imagined the view from my front porch, with a slight elevation. I chose to do all three letters in upper case, with each one melding into the other. It made the whole enterprise go much more quickly than usual. I had a purpose and a well-defined goal. When I was finished, I called my wife to the front window where I asked if she noticed anything different in the sculpting of the lawn. I had imagined myself working with the precision and detail of the groundskeepers of major league baseball stadiums. Imagine my surprise when my wife told me that she couldn't see anything.
I tried to point it out to her. I described my method and my vision. She smiled and acknowledged that she could make out some faint pattern in the grass, but she just couldn't make out a name. Was it really that hard to see?
The next day, when my younger brother arrived to celebrate the early version of his birthday, I asked him to stand with me on the porch and look out onto the green sea in front of him. The good sport that he is did not allow for him to quickly dismiss my efforts, but I could tell that he was having the same trouble my wife had the day before. I went down to ground level and had him watch as I paced out each letter, shuffling across the tracks that I had mowed just twenty-four hours earlier.
"It's your name. See?"
"Oh yeah. Now I see," he was being polite, but I could tell that he appreciated the effort. He's an artist and he knows how it feels to put himself out there. Now he was, in name truly out there. "Wow," he enthused, "I feel like a soldier coming back from Iraq or something. I should really do something to deserve this."
That was enough for me.