Along time ago when I lived in Minneapolis there was a lake in the city with public beaches and park grounds surrounding it. No sandy beaches, mind you, but a lot of green grass and broad-limbed trees to shade the summer sun and keep cool under the sheltering leaves that rustled in the wind like a symphony.
It was at this lake that I would take refuge several times a week away from a brownstone apartment building that was too near the intersection of two interstate freeways that cut through the city near downtown. My initial activities at the lake and the park that surrounded it were for physical exercise. I would run the two and half miles around the lake on an asphalt path used by pedestrians. But gradually, the bucolic urban atmosphere of the park showed me some of its beauty and charmed me in other ways. I stopped jogging around the lake and sat under the shady trees and sometimes I sat at different park benches, each offering spectacular views of the lake, grassy hills, and crowds of people walking alone, together with friends or dogs.
Then it became a place for a single guy like me to take a date. On several occasions the date would consist of a walk all around the lake, which took up to 45 minutes or so and longer if we spent time sitting at a bench along the way. One early evening, I went to the park with a graduate student who was a poet and an artist, a woman who lived in same apartment building where I resided. Rachel was very creative and was well on her way to using her imagination and intelligence in the service of what would be a brilliant career in public relations involving the arts. She was friendly, courteous, and conversationally brilliant.
As evening turned to dusk we sat down at a bench under a giant elm tree. We talked back and forth about a lot of things–friends, politics, literature and our feelings about how enjoyable the outdoors are, especially this wonderful park with a lake that was oddly shaped like a jigsaw puzzle piece. You might say we were putting the pieces of the puzzle of our relationship together as we enjoyed the gentle breeze coming across the lake and the sound of wind blowing through the tree leaves.
Suddenly, it so happened we came to a point where talk turned into silence. We looked at each other. It seemed to me she moved her face ever so close to mine, our shoulders touching, bodily pleasure announced at its touch, and the moment was like an eternity leading to a kiss. But then, there was the sound of rustling in the grass accompanied by soft murmurings. Rachel proceeded to sit back on the bench in a very erect position. “What’s that?,” she asked. I answered I had no idea. I think we were a bit startled to realize the rustling murmuring sounds in the grass belong to two people, a guy and a girl. I turned to take a look. Sure enough, there was a young couple lying entwined with each other in the grass in the dark of the night. For several minutes, Rachel and I sat there on a bench and neither of us spoke a word as the sounds of murmering oohs and ahhs in the grass continued. Our perfect moment seemed long gone and we got up to walk toward the car we had taken to the lake. It was parked on a residential street on the north end of the lake where some large mansions on a hill towered over the lake.
We made use of small talk, but I had the distinct feeling that we were mutually embarrassed by amorous feelings that welled up within us and by the interruption in the grass so near to our sitting place. In my mind I was imagining a policeman coming by with a flashlight illuminating the dark secrets in the park. The image of a searchlight discovering public displays of affection that played in my mind had come to spoil the moment we had shared. You might say that I was the inner policeman policing my morals and creating an imaginary set of park rules that would preclude any such dalliances and diversions threatening public order.
So many years later, I sometimes wonder how I lost track of the women I had dated when I was single and carefree. Was it work, school, or moves that ended relationships? Or was it the gradual passage of time? Getting busy with our lives? I don’t know , but what still bothers me–and maybe protects me a little, too–is that inner nagging conscience that is always with me, sometimes overpowering me, sometimes teasing me, and sometimes merely advising me. That someone is none other than the inner policeman in my own mind, I guess. If I knew then what I know now it would be this–nothing ventured, nothing gained. The image in my mind of the policeman with the flashlight can make me laugh now and then. In a philosophical mood, though, I wonder if the symbolism is right in front of me. We have desires, but we need boundaries. We need to shine a light to fathom the darkness. We were young and romantics once. In time we become old and gray, but it never stops us from a sense of wonder of what we once were and how we live with those memories still. And that’s about the only thing that keeps us young at heart, no matter how the policing conscience patrols our hearts and desires.