During the week, Husband Mike has a day job in which talks to a lot of very ill people, with ailments you have never heard of and probably don’t want to know about. But he comes home and tells me about them because otherwise he’d lose his mind from sadness and fear. There are so many ways to get sick, you guys, and so many of them will just blindside you. We talk about them, and we mourn, and we say how grateful we are not to be ill ourselves.
Last week he came home and said, “I’ve found a new thing I don’t want to be.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Old,” he said.
I romanticize old-ladydom, and spend an abnormally large amount of time gazing at old couples and guessing which ones Mike and I will resemble when we reach that age. And as an anxious person who prefers sleep to practically every other activity, I am REALLY looking forward to retirement. But I am finally starting to understand the true power and weight of age. It is not going to be a cakewalk. There will be pain and illness and fear of the unknown, loss and silence and irreversible change.
And yet there is a woman at our gym who makes me wonder. I wonder about her in the sense of being curious, but I wonder at her, too. She is a small, very thin Asian woman who I’d estimate to be in the neighborhood of 88 or 89. She wears her straight white hair in a long bob with bangs, and boldly dons her crop tops and shorts even in the winter. And I’ll be damned if she doesn’t attend every aerobics class at my gym, every day of the week. And I mean the high-impact ones, too. She lags behind the spry young things bounding around the studio, but she keeps up pretty well. She’s never more than a half beat behind. And although she never looks gleeful, you can tell from her expression that she is pleased to be there, moving and grooving to the brain-busting techno beats. She is serene and quietly glad. And she is wrinkly as a living raisin, and too small for her own loose skin, and I can see her bones quite clearly. And she is BEAUTIFUL to me.
Here is a woman who has cared for herself, and who continues to do so. And it seems to me that she has both cared for herself in the sense of eating right and exercising and avoiding heroin and wearing a bike helmet, AND in the sense of being loving with herself. She is a loving person overall, with affection to spare and kindness for anyone who speaks with her. But I can tell that she keeps a special reserve of love for her own body. She respects it, and nurtures it, and cares for it. And and although her head knows that health and fitness are important, it’s her heart that does the driving.
The most important psychological shift that happened after I wrote my letter to my body was that I finally unearthed some feelings of tenderness toward my own physical self. Most of my life I’ve felt nothing but feelings of frustration and hatred toward my body. After two years of grueling South Beach hell, I felt some pride at how skinny I’d finally become … but there was no real tenderness there. This was different. This was accepting the fact that I’m GOING to gain some weight this winter and acknowledging that it’s what my body needs, instead of dreading it. This was looking at my physical quirks with gentle curiosity about their genetic benefits, instead of just hating them. This was seeing myself as the healthy, strong, whole body that I am, and being grateful for it.
And I think about this woman at my gym, and her example makes me see that finding a way to maintain those feelings of tenderness may help me remain vibrant and energetic well into my dotage. It won’t keep me from getting sick or losing loved ones or wrinkling up, but it may help me stay healthier and happier longer. It may keep me biking and lifting weights even when I’m living in a nursing home. And it will certainly help me be a kinder human being.
We hate our bodies. We are TRAINED to do it, and it is a tough habit to break. And even though that hatred may force us to make lifestyle changes and choices that help us to become, technically, healthier, the hatred itself is so harmful. So, so harmful. And I know you know that. But there are many things we know that bear reminding.
Can you be tender toward your own body? Can you find a way to cherish its youth and strength, and look with pleasure on its quirks? Maybe you can’t today, or tomorrow, or next week. But work toward it. It could be the secret wonder drug that science will never find. And even if it isn’t, what could be bad about trading hatred for a little tenderness?
Image courtesy DeItasly.