New Jersey continues to be a piece of my puzzle

Last week I was back in New Jersey. It marked my first time back in a little over a year. I know that January is perhaps not the best time to leave Chicago for New Jersey (the escape to someplace warm is coming later this week), but I have an annual check-in at Memorial Sloan Kettering that I use as an excuse to spend time re-connecting with friends…and the landscape.

In spite of not being on Facebook (or Messenger), I had absolutely no trouble communicating with the people I wanted to see. Armed with cell numbers, I texted friends to let them know I was in town and to make plans. First up was a run through the familiar park where I’d logged probably over 1000 miles. I connected with members of the running club I helped start in 2014. Some new faces, but lots of familiar ones.

De Novo Harriers. Saddle River County Park. Ridgewood, New Jersey. January 2020.

For some reason – and maybe partly because it had been over a year – this trip triggered some unexpected emotions. While I enjoyed the comradely of the group run, I was glad to have a few extra miles on the schedule to take in the trail for a while on my own and reflect on who I was and who I’ve become as the miles unfolded on that very path over more than two decades.

On Saturday evening I attended mass in the gym at my elementary school. If you read my post “Lessons learned in a humble gymnasium” you know it had been over 37 years since I attended mass in that gym. When I walked in it was like walking into my childhood home and having everything appear as it had been. Emotion over took me at the sight of the faux stained glass that served as a backdrop to the alter now as it had decades ago. The last time I saw this scene I was 16…long before so many events, both happy and tragic. I had arrived early enough that I had time to exit briefly to compose myself, only to return to the sight of Sister Anne, my religious education teacher who prepared us for first communion – in that same gymnasium – during the 1972-73 school year. She was there as part of the reunion my friend coordinated. Between illnesses and weather (northern New Jersey saw about 4 inches of snow that evening) our group of 30 shrunk to 10, but it was so nice to reconnect.

On Sunday morning I did a solo run near my friend’s home in Lyndhurst. That’s when I realized that one of the things I miss about New Jersey the most is being high. No, not in a legal weed kind of way, but in a top of the mountain sort of way. I ran along Ridge Road, appropriately named as its at the top of a big hill (or maybe what my Illinois friends would call a mountain). My view to the west included the vast New Jersey landscape and more mountains. My view to the east was the Manhattan skyline. There are lots of high places in northern New Jersey like that. Northern Illinois, not so much.

Seen on my run. North Arlington-Kearny, New Jersey border. January 2020.

I love Chicago. I love running on the lakefront. I love exploring new neighborhoods. It’s a smaller, more manageable city. It’s calmer. The people don’t seem as busy and are a little more apt to give you their time. But if I’m going to live in the suburbs, I’d take New Jersey hands down. And maybe a lot of that is familiarity. And maybe some of it is the landscape. Or the distance I now feel from a city. Or the relationships.

This trip also allowed me to check in with my New Jersey-based coach with whom I’ve been training virtually. There is no substitute for actual FaceTime. I realized this too in getting together with some of my favorite “Ramsey Moms”. Between that and staying part of the week with my BFF, Martha, it sunk in that perhaps what I miss most is female friendships. I just haven’t made those connections here – yet. But when I was in New Jersey, I missed Kurt. And when my daughter is not with me, I miss her too. I guess it comes down to nothing’s perfect. We live our lives constantly in search of missing puzzle pieces hoping to find a completeness that will never truly exist. When new pieces are found, others are lost. And yet, we can still focus on what’s new and good about what we have built and move forward.

Ultimately what was perhaps best about this trip was another clear check-up at MSKCC. Good health is, after all, the one piece of the puzzle we can’t do without. Coming up…marathon #10.

4 thoughts on “New Jersey continues to be a piece of my puzzle

  • February 8, 2020 at 8:56 am

    Nice post Mary! I feel the same way about NJ. I have too much invested in NJ, not in money of course. But family, friends, and yes even running. They do have races our here, but not as many. I miss the North Jersey Masters. I did go back to NJ last September to visit, and even did the Glen Rock Run on Labor Day and connected with some of the members. It was great. My wife and I really couldn’t afford living in NJ, and while Janet’s family getting up in age and sadly my parents and my older brother passing away it, it made the move to Kansas a bit more tolerable.

    • February 12, 2020 at 8:35 am

      I always wanted to move away – just for the experience of someplace else – but my elderly parents kept us in place too and then of course you settled in when the kid(s) are in school. But after 51 years there, I think it’s safe to assume that no new experience will ever be as ingrained in me as Northern NJ. I will have to make it to Kansas one of these days. While I can’t commit to running a marathon in every state, I’m trying to run a race in everyone. Please let me know if you have any recommendations!

      • February 12, 2020 at 8:47 am

        Mary, they have the Oz Marathon in April in Olathe about an hour to an hour and a half away from Topeka. They also have a half marathon and a 10k as well. I’ve done the 10k in 2016 and 1/2 marathon in 2017. If you ever decide to do it. Let me know and maybe we might catch up with each other.

      • February 12, 2020 at 8:54 am

        Sounds like a plan, Matt! Thank you!

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