Last summer, I mowed a lawn for the first time.
The grass was thick and dark, overgrown from neglect. The sun burned through my shirt. Dozens of small bugs, agitated by the spinning blades of the lawn mower, swarmed around the sweat shining on my skin. Blisters formed on soft palms, green stained the toes of old running shoes, and each intake of breath was flavored by the tang of fresh mulch. It took three hours.
I went back into the house, exhausted. My mom told me I should’ve taken a break, maybe left half the lawn for tomorrow. I shook my head and said I had wanted to finish it. I ate dinner quietly, took a quick shower, then went to bed early. Sleep enveloped me almost immediately.
It was the best sleep I had in weeks.
There’s something therapeutic about mowing a lawn.
There’s the physical exertion. It requires constant movement, a straining of muscles, something more than walking to the bathroom or carrying bags of groceries. You have to struggle. Pull the cord several times to get the motor running, shove the mower over uneven ground, stop to throw rocks out of the way so they won’t ruin the blades. You have to pour in more gas before restarting the mower, move slowly through the dense grass to keep it from clogging, pause to clear the machine if it does get clogged, empty the bag of grass clippings into a trash can, go back to pushing, and repeat.
The exercise helps clear your mind. It releases endorphins that burn away at the gray haze that had been wrapping itself around you like a damp blanket. The frustration of rejection, the fear of mediocrity, the anger at your self-pity, the hundred other emotions that have taken up station inside your body, are forcibly expelled by the soreness in your arms and legs.
You revel in the destruction. Cutting down swaths of vibrant growth and reducing them into browning clumps carries a perverse satisfaction and each patch of lawn becomes a place to conquer, a target to ravage. The roar of the motor vibrates within your chest, urging you to ignore the insects angrily buzzing in futile protest and to continue with the extermination of their homes and brethren. It feels good.
It’s the same pleasure you got as a child, when you toppled over buildings made of Lego, or stomped on crude sand castles at the beach. It’s the catharsis you felt when you threw light bulbs into the back of a dumpster, watching them shatter into sparkling dust. It’s the thrill of excitement that runs through all humans when performing small acts of violence.
The violence gives you a semblance of control. You choose which area to attack first, what path to take. The uneven stalks are sheared away, decapitated, leaving only orderly lines behind. A pattern emerges. It’s a pattern that you alone shape to your liking, one that you can look at upon completion and think, ‘I did this. This is mine.’
It’s not much. It’s just mowing a lawn.
But it helps.