Almost Dog

The dog and I made our way briskly through a crisp autumn morning. We paused before a grassy field. I took a step and did not feel the tingle of wet grass and dew on my feet. Alas, this was the first day of “serious” shoes.

I wore sandals most days for the last four warm months. I especially enjoyed them when it rained. While the rest of me enjoyed protection from numerous waterproof synthetic fibers, my feet enjoyed the refreshing chill of fresh rainwater.

This wasn’t quite so pleasant after the rain, when I stepped in dark puddles and muddy patches. I’d like to tell myself that this was one more natural element in my environment, but our Home Owners Association’s frequent dousing of common lands with herbicides inspired me to rinse my feet and sandals, as well as the dog’s paws, when we encountered these things.

When I took them off, I saw tan lines crossing my feet. I wore the sandals so often that when I had to put on “real” shoes for ventures to restaurants or a hiking trip, my feet came down with cabin fever. What are these sock things, they complained. Why can’t we feel the air.

Like hiking boots, sandals tend to make you think of your feet, until you reach that moment when you stop thinking of your feet. You look around and, if you’re not distracted, and your phone isn’t in your hand, you begin to notice where you are and, maybe, feel grateful for the dog, and the day, that brought you here.

Now that I’ve put my summer shoes away, my feet notice where they’re not.

And the dog, barefoot all the time, looks at me and wonders why I don’t give it all up and just be a dog. In sandals, I was almost there.

 

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What Happened to the Golden Rule?

I haven’t added a post in a while, though not for an inability to write. I have a file of posts that I began and stopped because I wasn’t sure if sending out that stream of words would be a good thing for me and those who may read them.

Every other day I read (in newspapers printed on real paper!) of some well known, productive, basically decent individual done in by a few sentences added to Facebook, Twitter or some other social media account. Some of what is quoted seems to me careless speech, the kind of burble that happens at parties among friends, at bars whose drinkers have had more than a few too many.

Friends may react to such burble with a roll of their eyes–that’s just ___________ making a fool of himself. Drunks at the bar could grumble and–at bars I definitely do not visit regularly–throw a punch.

In most situations, the damage from careless speech is contained. Injured parties may demand–and, unlike our current era, get–an apology. The owner of the loose lips may be told not to come back to the bar, and, if that punch connected with anyone, legal remedies may work their dreary purpose.

But now, employers review an prospective’s Internet activity, to make sure that anything burbled out of the office, no matter how long ago, won’t embarrass the business. Though I’ve been self-employed for most of my life, I remain grateful that I don’t have a Facebook or Twitter account. I’m not afraid that I’d say anything to cause the flurry of outrage, or “viral” activity that passes for celebrity news. It’s that what little anyone may offer on these platforms cannot be taken back. Even deleted remarks can be resurrected. And an apology isn’t good enough. What you say identifies you as pawn, a player or standard bearer in the endless tribal conflicts that consume our lives. It is truly regrettable that the culmination of so much technology, art, culture and civilization is self-expression in an arena that has no physical existence, but creates life changing consequences, most of which are far from good.

An offensive Tweet (remember when that was a pleasant, harmless sound made by birds?) can end a career, even if the burbler embarks on a rehabilitation quest. A few decades ago, celebrities who embarrassed themselves in public could go on talk shows, chat about their families, cry about their mistakes and expect some public compassion.

As one who has always valued the necessity of self-expression, and has made a fool of himself too many times with careless speech, I am inspired to withdraw, in search of some deeper solace between myself and the greater spiritual universe that, I have come to believe, matters much more. Escapist activities like exercise, listening to music, a walk in the woods, cooking a complicated dinner, or writing pages of a novel that I hope everyone will read and love–seem a better investment of my living energy.

I can’t help but wish for some kind of justice for those who use the Internet to shame, belittle and bully. I’m aware that this behavior is consistent with the human nature most of us find perfectly natural.

But I was raised to keep that vicious antagonism in check. I was raised to respect and honor most people I met, not as potential enemies deserving of shame and ridicule, but as people who with whom I shared things in common. Such an ideal goes back to the Golden Rule: do to others as you would have them do to you.

What’s happened to that?

From what I’ve heard, on the Internet, status and money can be acquired by saying and doing things that consistently capture attention. Glance at the history of show business, entertainment and the expressive arts, and you find for every great movie, play, poem or painting, there are plenty of cheap shots that draw our gaze, whether or not we want to give it. After a while, if your attention is yanked about too much, you get tired. You shut down. You cease to feel.

I overheard a “communications professional” interviewed about the preponderance of insulting, misleading and frequently false claims in political “attack” ads. She excused the advertising as the result of the “fact” that human beings are “hard-wired” to pay more attention to negativity–things we don’t like, incite our anger, fill us with fear and dread–than the opposite.

Are we? I’d like to see the research that established this fact. And then I’d like to propose a moral question. What do we “get” from so much attention to negativity? Do we sleep soundly at the end of the day, content that the bad, the culpable or those we are told to assume are inferior to us, have been received what they deserved?

What has come around is that ugly, dangerous, destructive theory of action: the end justifies the means.

What is the end to which so much Internet abuse aspires? I don’t know, but I am aware that, if the public outrage machine has an immediate result. When we are made angry so frequently, when we are given so many numerous and changing targets for our hatred and resentment, when we join mobs that laugh, taunt, demean and ridicule, we lose our sense of ourselves, and get, in exchange, someone else’s idea of what we should be.

I’ve had moments in my life when I failed, or did foolish things, inadvertently hurt someone, or made a sorry mess, and wished I could be anyone but who I am.  My wish wasn’t granted. I returned to the truth that, wish as I might, I’m stuck with this person, this “me,” that maybe, when I look past the stuff that didn’t work out, could be okay, and even a little bit lucky.

Are we that different, you and me, that we can give our attention to better things?

 

 

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The Next Wish

I had a moment in the middle of a dream when I understood that most of my wishes have been granted.

Most, but not all. Mostly.

And the majority just happened. Yes, there was some degree of effort involved, some nervousness, too many false starts, an occasional appeal to a higher power that, as far as I know, paused in the management of the universe to find me a parking space, send me a sign that my writing (and my life) still mattered, help me pass my second black belt exam, and, most important of all, reunite me with my one true love. The parking space wish was granted in seconds. My first published novel required about four years, with some unbelievably frustrating moments. The reunification with my love happened after  40 years.

Along the way, all these great things happened that I didn’t ask for, didn’t plan, didn’t anticipate and couldn’t avoid (I wasn’t sure they’d be great, so I tried to make them not happen, but they did anyway).

I look around and see (and hear about) so many people who could use a few wishes coming true. I know of too much suffering in this world. People have terrible illnesses, horrible predicaments, long runs of bad luck that should have stopped short.

Why were my wishes granted?

I’d like to claim that it was all due to my hard work, righteous lifestyle and the eating of vegetables, but, no. I’d like to point toward a book whose words of wisdom and inspiration lighted the way, but there were too many books and, to be honest, what worked for the author of that book almost never worked for me. I had to be banged around by life. I had to have moments when I was scared out of my mind and nothing worked.

Then…something worked. A higher power? Perhaps, but I can’t be certain. I have hints but never enough to be absolutely sure.

Can I praise my stubborn, determined certainty?  Nahhh. I have fretted and doubted my way up and down mountains. I don’t merely second guess myself. I third, fourth and tenth guess (I still wonder if the first paragraph of my first published novel could have been improved with a little more of this and a little less of that).

For me, achievement tended to happen most frequently when I forced myself to forget about who I was and what I was supposed to be doing, and merely did my best.

This method has not been as successful as I’d liked, and I’ve spent too much time moping over might-have-beens. I know that I’ve failed people, and people have failed me, and that it doesn’t even out.

I have not been careful of what I wish for. Yes, some answered prayers did not improve my situation. They didn’t give me what I thought I wanted.

But too many of them did.

Some of those granted wishes could have been granted further. I’ve been published, but nothing I published made me more confident about what I wrote. Nothing I published made it easier to write, or to have my great ideas for books see print. I found that when you publish a lot of one thing, some publishers will consider you publishing more of that thing.  Most will just say no, no matter who you are, and who you think you are.

Today, anyone can publish just about anything on the Internet. Will anyone see it?

It’s time to make a new wish. I’ll call on that higher power.

And listen.

 

 

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Uh-Huh, Bummer, Wow

A spiritual leader once confided that you can handle just about any conversation–with anyone–by using these three responses. I found this disturbing, at first, because one of the most difficult tasks spiritual leaders must perform is listening to those who are confused, in pain, in trouble, afraid, dying or uncertain if they will help pay the spiritual leader’s salary.

Then I tried this and discovered how well it works.

I’m one of those shy people who deals with his fear of social situations by talking. After thirty years in journalism I have developed some techniques that gently control conversations.  When I’m in a conversation I tend to want to share experiences or information, so when someone says this happened, I come back with what happened to me. This tendency is often misjudged. People tell me later that I shouldn’t have “topped” the other’s experience. “It’s not supposed to be about you,” I hear. If I mention a fact or bit of knowledge I find interesting and relevant, I’m told I’m too much of a “know it all.”

The art of conversation is now taking place mostly in cyberspace, which has its own rules, morals and manners. Many people find “face time” conversations that don’t involve an aim (a journalistic interview) or an anticipated outcome (“Excuse me, but can you show me where I can find frozen peas?”) difficult. I’m one of them.

Now that I am old enough to be never mistaken for young I’ve discovered that, on the whole, older types are not that important to our youth-oriented consumer society. We are not that interesting and are too eager to offer advice about things we couldn’t possibly know, or that, because of our age, are buried in our past and obviously irrelevant.

But every so often younger people occasionally need, or want, our approval, permission, resources (typically money but also emotional support, or a vote of confidence) and, when they realize how scary the world can be, comfort.

If we older types just say “uh huh” more often, we appear to understand everything. We are suddenly up-to-date and relevant. We get it. We are woke.

Too much human interaction involves being manipulated by social media protocols, phone trees, machined responses, unanswered e-mails, voice mail boxes that become catacombs for our hopes and fears.

So, when people talk about themselves, more often than not, they want is to feel as if someone is listening in a manner that connotes less comprehension than respectful attention. When you say uh-huh repeatedly, you’re not merely showing the talker that you agree. You’re also encourage people to keep talking until they run out of energy or they begin to repeat themselves and then run out of energy. You may not understand everything they’re saying, but, having sat through a foreign movie with hard-to-read subtitles, you get the gist eventually.

Use “wow” and “bummer,” or some similar colloquialism, to show sympathy. “Wow” is not just surprise at what this person is telling you. It shows that you feel the delight, shock, indignation or amazement that your speaker experienced. You may have done something similar. You may have climbed the same mountain and want to show that you share the experience in common.

But your speaker doesn’t want to feel a shared bond. Your job is to not to speak and, thereby, validate that person’s need to speak.

“Bummer” says, yes, that wasn’t good, or it should have been better, and–necessary for spiritual leaders–indicating little about fault, blame or responsibility. A bummer is a cloud without a silver lining, a bad thing that crosses our path, the yucky stuff that hits the fan. Some bummers make us turn to God and ask why. We don’t always get an explanation and some explanations only make a bad situation worse.

So the fact that another human being is listening, without judging (or appearing to judge) the speaker’s life, can take that speaker away from the bad feelings that accompany bummers. Psychologists call this release of buried, suppressed or overwhelming emotion through conversation, abreaction. It isn’t the only benefit of therapy, but it can be the moment when healing begins.

I’m not so old that I’ve forgotten what it is like to need a parent to hug you and say let you cry, or laugh, or merely feel safe. Words can do that.

Words like words uh-huh, bummer, wow.

 

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The Angels You Meet

It came out of a dinner party conversation that could have been as light and evanescent as a sweet dessert: sometimes a person you may not know, in a place you’d never expect, says or does precisely the right thing to help you on your way.

You may not be aware that you need assistance. Your mind may be on other things. The person may not be the kind you would notice. But something is said, or done, and your life changes for the better.

I thought back about so many human angels in my life. Some I came to know too well. Familiarity made me downplay the miraculous nature of the good advice, the helping hand, the kind act.

We are most contemptuous of angelic behavior with our parents. For so many years I held tight to grudges, mulled over wounds, railed against mistakes and adjusted downward my opinions of their mental state. It’s so easy to forget that, despite the obvious errors, the inadvertent or deliberate cruelties, the acts of unfairness, injustice and hypocrisy, I would not be here if not for them.

This fact of “being here” does not merely refer to conception. How many times, I wonder, did my behavior bring forth the wish that they simply hadn’t had me? If I hadn’t been born, how many times could they have slept the night?

In such situations, angelic action resembles divine restraint. In others, it can be like a samurai sword cut–a single slash of the blade the ends the conflict.

I once wanted to drop out of college because none of the classes were giving me practical, survival skills. I had lined up a job as an apprentice cook in a diner when an angel told me, “You don’t want to learn the multiplication tables. You’d rather play outside.”

I still haven’t memorized the answer to 11 times 12. And I don’t have the timing and mastery of a short order cook. But I didn’t drop out and, when I was on a group tour of the English Lake District, I was the only tourist on the bus who knew who John Ruskin was. That I had learned about Ruskin after graduating didn’t matter. What I learned most powerfully in college was that learning feels good, and I’ve been an autodidact ever since.

Just recently my wife and I were walking up an uneven stone path to a summit of Helvellyn, the most famous mountain in the Lake District. When it began to rain, we donned our raincoats and kept going. Two climbers came down and warned us of a “white out” at the peak: a condition in which a cloud descends and you can’t see your hand in front of your face.

We took the advice of these angels and turned around. A few days later I heard someone had died when he slipped and fell off the same path.

As I thought about angels, I remembered when I became one. No, I was not filled with a spiritual glow and a resounding sense of purpose. But, through what I said and did, the “white out” became clear.

Less than a month after my son bought his first car, a convertible, he’d driven it too fast on a winding road and hit a tree.  The air bag had just gone off and had blown his glasses off his face. He called me and I drove out as quickly as I could. My had no injuries but he was very upset. I stayed with him as the police car rolled up. The officer came out and judged the car totaled. My son became even more upset.

Then I asked the officer how many others had gone too fast on the same road, and hit the same tree. He laughed and said he had done it with his first car.

My son calmed down. When I asked the tow truck driver the same question, we got the same answer. So many people had wrecked the first cars on that road, that my son could not just understand that he made a mistake, but see into what, about that road with its posted 20 miles-per-hour speed limit, had inspired him, and so many others, to go too fast.

At the time I did not know that others had hit the tree. The question just popped into my head, and the answers turned out to be the right ones for my son to hear. I did not feel like an angel. I was just grateful that he was safe and sound.

We never found his glasses.

At times our lives and our world seem so angry and divided that it is difficult to believe we will survive the next hour. Sickness, misfortune and violence visit us for no reason. In the great pursuit of happiness, we find ourselves far behind.

And that’s when angels find us. We get a glimpse, a hint, that problems can be solved, we really can help each other, things may not be as bad as they seem.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Return to Great Langdale

My first experience in England’s Lake District was a fool’s journey. My second was gently reassuring: no matter how deeply the rest of the world descends into selfishness, ethnic hatred, greed, cruelty and vain arrogance, a place will remain for those who have found a home in nature, and care enough about that home to maintain its beauty.

For those who don’t know, or believe a trip to England is London, Stratford-on-Avon and Windsor Castle, the Lake District is the United Kingdom’s largest national park, a UNESCO Heritage Site on the northwestern side of the island, from Morecambe Bay to Solway Firth. It is famous for its residents, who include the poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, author Beatrix Potter and social critic John Ruskin, and its spectacularly scenic lakes and rugged, barren mountains, known locally as “fells.”

Though you can find similar rural landscapes in the United States, the Lake District is uniquely, marvelously English. Near the town Keswick is a stone circle that is smaller, and believed to be older, than Stonehenge. The larger towns began as Roman forts. You can walk a Roman road built, not in the valleys, but along a high ridge. Many of the dry stone walls that enclose grazing areas for sheep, goats and cattle go back to the Viking invasion. At least one of the small islands in the lakes was a hermitage for Christian monks. The fells are riddled with abandoned mines that produced copper, gold, slate and graphite–that brittle, powdery substance that inspired Lakelanders to invent the pencil during the 16th Century.

The region became a tourist destination in the 19th century, when Romantic poets and artists found inspiration in a rustic, agricultural landscape in which man and nature appeared to exist in harmony.

I hadn’t heard of the place when I joined a high school friend in a month-long back-packing, rail-pass exploration of England, Scotland and Wales. Up to then, nearly every experience I had with hiking and camping was dreadful. My introduction to the Lake District would be worse.

We were staying in a London youth hostel when someone told us we should go to the Lake District, to a place with the unforgettable name of called Dungeon Ghyll, and climb the Great Gable. We could do it in a day, we were told.

We had rail passes that took us as far as Windermere, a town named for the lake. From there we boarded a bus that left us off at the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel, where we went to small fell walkers provisions shop. The bearded guy behind the counter recommended we take some kind of lunch with us. My friend bought a can of tuna. I got a can of ravioli. We had Swiss Army knives with a can opening tool.

After we dropped the cans in our back packs, we asked the guy where the Great Gable was. He pointed and said “you can’t miss it.”

He could have said that the Great Gable was about 12 miles away, up and down and up a considerably difficult series of trails. He could have suggested that we could buy a guide that showed where the trail, and this particular mountain (there were several in the Great Langdale valley) was. He could have glanced at my Converse sneakers and told me I should invest in climbing boots. He could have warned us that, though no rain was expected, the Lakes District is the wettest place on an island fiercely proud of its miserable weather.

He could have added that a ghyll is local dialect for mountain stream, and that Dungeon Ghyll was a waterfall we could see if we followed the creek near the hotel.

But, in the way that locals understand the virtues in failure, he said little. We set off in late morning and were soon tromping up a grassy slope where sheep turned to stare at us. We slipped and skidded over large swaths of what I would learn was “skree,” cascades of broken rock that gave way underfoot without warning.

My legs ached, my feet throbbed and sweat dripped off my forehead into my eyes when I noticed the sun dipping behind what my friend was certain was the Great Gable (it wasn’t). We stopped, sat down on lumpy grass that wasn’t spotted with sheep droppings. The can opener came out. I couldn’t eat my ravioli. We had finished all the water in our canteens (this was before the era of water bottled in plastic).

It became very, very cold. I put on another pair of pants, a second shirt and a sweater, and pulled my London Fog raincoat around me. I shivered as the stars came out. Somehow, we fell asleep.

The next morning I worked up with crusty eyes. A sheep was close enough to investigate the open can of ravioli. I watched it shake its head and look back at me, as if to say, “You crazy, or what?”

I wasn’t crazy. I was cold and miserable. I sat up and saw, in the distance, a tent.

Someone else was on the mountain! My friend thought whoever was in the tent would know where the Great Gable was.

I had no intention of going any further. I wanted to go back where we came, but I couldn’t see the path up, or any landmarks.

As we stumbled toward the tent, a man came out. He wore climbing gear. He wore boots. He had a beard and a thick sweater and a propane stove with a pot of tea at boil. When we told him we were looking for the Great Gable, he laughed and offered us a cuppa.

That tea was one of the best ever. As I sipped it, he told us about trails and guidebooks and that whoever told us to climb the Great Gable had been putting us on. If you’re going to begin walking the fells, we should do something easier.

All I wanted was a hot shower. He laughed again and said “Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel.” He pointed. “You can’t miss it.”

Before we left him, he warned us that going down was harder, and more dangerous, than going up. “Mind your feet.”

It took the entire day to find our way back to Dungeon Ghyll. I had to check into the hotel to take a bath, and so I did. My friend, who had enjoyed sleeping outdoors, wandered off and didn’t see me until the morning.

That bath was everything I’d like, and the bed held me like a baby. The next morning, I bought a roll with a small piece of cheese for breakfast. Then I walked with my friend back to road, took the bus to Windermere, got on a train for Edinburgh and never looked back.

My friend went on to attend medical school. He practices on the other side of the country.  His website says he likes to ski and jog. I guess he likes the great outdoors.

I like to jog, though I have be careful of my knees. I go to the gym and lift. I do karate katas. Sometimes I stretch.

I looking at the great outdoors–from a bench, or the window of a hotel room. I avoid most invitations to hike, camp or wander anywhere that isn’t paved.

My wife likes hiking and camping. When I told her about my brief experience with the Lake District, she wanted to go back to Dungeon Ghyll, with a guidebook, maps and really good hiking boots.

She bought the boots. She got the guidebooks and the maps. She found Lake District hotels near some of the famous peaks, such as Helvellyn and Cat Bells.

And so we went to Windermere for more than just a day. We tested our boots on a short trudge up to Orest Head, a walk that inspired a British civil servant named Alfred Wainwright to climb nearly every fell in the Lakes District and write a series of guidebooks about them.

We did another walk to a waterfall–not the “force” at Dungeon Ghyll, but good enough. The walks exhausted me and, again, reminded me how good a cup of tea tasted when they were over.

The climb up Hellvellyn could have been a far more dangerous disaster when a downpour caught us three quarters up the Stairway to Heaven, a trail of rough hewn stone steps going up and up and up.

I balked at going to Great Langdale. She booked a small group tour that include a ride up Hard Knot Pass and other scenic delights. The tour passed through Dungeon Ghyll and Great Langdale. We drove past the old hotel and went up a road that I recognized. We stopped in the valley to take pictures.

I don’t take pictures when I travel. I learned when I went to Rome the first time. My camera and film took up about a third of my luggage. I looked for the best shots. I went crazy when I misplaced a lens cap. I had the film developed and never looked at the pictures after they were printed.

Now I sit or stand for a while and notice as much as I can about a place. If I want a picture, I can buy a postcard.

So I stood and saw the cascade of skree that I had stumbled over. I saw the grassy slopes with sheep grazing on them. Those slopes had started out as gentle hills and then that became so steep that I had, so many years ago, I had to hug the earth to stop from sliding down.

And, just below those slopes, I could make out the trails we should have taken. I asked the guide which of the peaks was the Great Gable.

“You can’t see it from here,” he said.

I couldn’t see where we were stranded. I did, however, admire how beautiful the place could be, when you know where you are, and where you’re going.

A few days later my wife and I gasped our way up Cat Bells, a “family-friendly” fell that is supposed to be one of the easiest in the Lakes District. We had to rest frequently. Families with small children and dogs tromped heartily past us. We did not linger at the top, which buzzed with a zillion black flies.

The experience did not convert me to the fanatical fold of fell walkers. I did not feel Wordsworth’s blissful solitude. My feet throbbed. My legs ached. I was soaked in sweat. We took a bus back to Keswick, found a tea shop, and sat down.

And you know that cup of tea tasted very, very good.

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Lifting

I finally found that feeling you get when you lift, of pushing back, and pushing out, of creating a space from inside out. When the sweat streaks down your face and your shirt sticks to the bench, the space becomes yours.

The feeling eluded me for most of my life. For me, exercising was an escape from being the fat kid who couldn’t catch or throw a ball. I discovered if I offered to run the track, the phys. ed. teachers would leave me alone. Only during football season did I find some pride. As a center, I was too massive to move. Kids tried to run into me and knock me down. They bounced off. This wasn’t enough for me to be accepted on a team.

After more than enough self-hatred for being fat, made me buy a set of weights. After a month in our dusty garage, I could put on larger plates.  Firmer muscle lurked below the flab, but the flab remained.

I forced myself not to eat the bread, pasta, potatoes and ice cream that was a staple of our family meals. It took me five months, but I lost 50 pounds when I entered high school. Not long after, a girl gave me her telephone number. She is now my wife.

But lifting was still a strange, noisy, clunky thing that didn’t seem to take me anywhere. Holding the bars felt strange. The weight was an intrusion. The gnurled collar on the bars dug into my skin. In college, I wandered into the weight room, and dropped a few plates on the Universal, but I mostly went for long runs down flat, two-lane roads in the surrounding Ohio farmland. I’d discovered that runner’s high, and I liked it. I also took yoga back when it was uncommon. The class was taught by an American graduate student who grew a beard so he could look like a mountain man, or, more likely, an Indian yogi. After a while, I’d get that loose limbed yoga high, the blissful relaxation that freed memories or helped me really enjoy laying on my back without a pillow.

I also heard about aikido, and became interested in the martial arts as a way to blast through writers block when caffiene didn’t work. It would take a few more years before I took lessons in aikido and shotokhan karate. I also exercised in a nearby gym, crashing plates on the Universal, going into the zone on a step machine and, later, an F/X. I finally achieved that perilous state where you believe you are “in shape.” I could do pull-ups. I could do more than 1,000 crunches. I could run from one part of the city to another, arriving at a restaurant, an editor’s office, or a classroom to teach writing–in a sweaty mess.

But I never quite felt that I had achieved anything. I didn’t have the cut and shredded torso of body builder. I wasn’t thick and beefy like power lifters. My body ached in different places at different times. When I hiked the Inca trail in Peru I had such a severe case of altitude sickness that I couldn’t carry my day pack. My knees began to swell oddly, leading to the first of several surgeries.

Lifting was still a chore. It didn’t feel good and, if anything, the numbers on the stacks reminded me that, yes, I could move this much weight, but, somewhere was another person who could lift more.

So I stopped lifting, remaining with karate and the occasional long run. Then I had surgery on my wrist, two heart attacks and another orthoscopic clean up on my knee.

I stopped exercising. When I’d do the run or the karate, I’d hurt. When I didn’t, I still hurt.

What got me back in the gym were a few days when a steaming temperature inversion turned the outside air into stifling miasma of auto pollution and the parching odor of evaporating lawn treatments that the HOA provides, whether you want them or not.

I put the headphones on, started on some of the lower weights, and those awkward feelings returned. I was older and, possibly wiser, but I still felt like a fat kid in a garage, hoping to lift himself into a different person.

That went on for another few weeks. At least the gym’s air conditioning filtered away the pollution. Somehow I stayed at it.

And then, on a day when I was quite actually going through the motions, I felt as if pushing those weights was creating a new space. The space had always existed, but, this time, I owned it.

It happened the next day, and the day after that. I’m sure I can find a biophysical, neurological explanation for this but….

I’d rather go to the gym and lift some more.

 

 

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