We spent an awesome weekend in Breckenridge checking out the Budweiser International Snow Sculpting Festival. Artists from around the world came to carve huge blocks of packed snow into intricate sculptures, each depicting a theme or message. Robert’s favorite was “Bolting From Extinction,” which featured a life-sized elephant head on top of a bolt. My favorite was “Love Wins,” which included an angry fist being stopped by the palm of a hand. The results really were amazing, and I couldn’t help but wonder how someone came upon the particular gift of ice carving. It took dedication, and an ability to work in freezing temperatures.
After viewing the sculptures we headed across Main Street to see something called Fire Sculptures. We needn’t have worried about getting lost, as we were guided by 12 foot flames shooting into the sky. As we approached the square where the displays were, curiosity, then awe set in. The sculptures were made of huge metal pieces, including one that resembled organ pipes. Children stepped up to play the organ, and with each stroke of the keys flames shot straight up out of the pipes into the night sky. Another was a round, hula-hoop looking tube that spun within another hoop, again children took the controls and spun the exhibit, triggering bursts of flames at each turn. The effect against the night sky, along with the very cold temperatures, was mesmerizing, and we muscled our way through the crowd to get a better look.
The third sculpture resembled a large metal spider, with long legs spread out to steady the huge steel ball in the center. Inside the ball was another, smaller ball, and the balls spun simultaneously, with fire deep in the belly of both balls. As they spun faster, the flames morphed and whipped into amazing shapes, and the legs trembled under the weight and force. I couldn’t imagine how someone would even think up such a contraption, then wondered what it would be like to have that thought in your head. Did you see it in a dream? Did you add to it each day? Was the need to build this thing in your head all-consuming? I figured it must be an artist thing. I knew nothing of the artist who created this, but I did know it had to have taken a lot of time and a lot of money to build. Which made me ponder. This was an incredible art display, but what about the person with the same vision in his head, but no money to build it? Were some of the “crazy” people wandering around downtown Denver collecting metal simply trying to bring their own visualization to life? Was their brilliance being confused with insanity? Perhaps money is the fine line between the two.
I remember a time, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, when I would scoff at emails promoting fad diets. Younger and smug about my weight, I confidently deleted every one that came through my inbox promising fast weight loss, belly fat secrets and the latest fat burning gimmick.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Now I find myself searching the internet looking for anything that will help me lose weight. Twenty years ago I was pretty fat, nearly 200 pounds. Then, by the ironic grace of diabetes, lost weight and enjoyed a pretty easy maintenance weight of about 120. Let’s just say I’m not as big as I once was, but the memory of being fat is still clear in my mind, and fuels my fear of getting there again.
Now there are several factors at play. Age, a slower metabolism, a medication change and, by my own doing, several months of overindulgence and under-exercising. Having cleared all medical reasons for an unbudging weight, and sticking to an exercise routine for nearly 30 days, I was absolutely desperate to see a change in the scale. I could feel the effects of weight-lifting sessions, and I was almost certainly getting toner, but as women, and I guess as humans, we rely heavily on the opinion of inanimate objects—aka the almighty scale. How a small, metal object came to have such control over our lives I will never know, and I had even tried to banish it into a secret place where I would never look at it again. But alas, I found myself drawn to it, like a moth to a flame, yearning for its daily praise, only to be shattered when I stood upon it and faced its judgment of my failure to succeed.
Eager to please the judgmental little demon, I searched the internet for diets that promised quick results, and after reading dozens of reviews decided to try the Military Diet. Like all fad diets, the concept of burning more calories than you take in made sense, as well as the thought that certain foods, when eaten together can speed up your metabolism and hasten fat burning. There were the usual extreme reviews ranging from it’s not about calories its about carbs, or vegan only, or juices only, or organic only. Each I believe held a little truth, and certainly some were perfect for some people, but I wanted to see result fast.
The only way to know was to try it, so I printed out the routine and brought it home to Robert. He indulges me often, and since we’ve been on a weight loss journey together, he agreed to try it with me. Details aren’t necessary, but the next three days involved grapefruit, lots of tuna, eggs and a bit of ice cream. Amazingly I wasn’t often hungry, had plenty of energy and kept exercising, and actually lost five pounds. I found myself motivated once again, and no longer obssessed about the most satisfying way to destroy the demonic scale. Why, or how the diet worked I’m sure could be ripped apart and ridiculed by some experts, but I don’t really care. I feel better, and I learned a couple of things that will help me in my journey.
First, I learned what it felt like to feel hungry again. Not starving hungry, but to not have a full belly. I don’t remember the last time my stomach wasn’t full, believing that a snack was necessary, or eating because I was bored. I had had a full belly for years, and it turns out maybe the occasional hunger pain is good for me. It made me feel a little more alive, and a little more aware of what I was actually putting in my body.
Secondly, I learned that 300 calories of food, in the form of apples, tuna, salmon or vegetables is actually a crap-load of food. Several times we struggled to complete the entire meal, and were uncomfortably full after finishing.
And lastly, it was good to love food again. I don’t usually care for salmon, but by the end of the second day, as I walked on the treadmill and thought of my upcoming dinner, I found myself actually craving the salmon. Granted, had I not been on the diet I probably would have felt the same way about a big plate of fettuccine alfredo, but at that moment, and later as I sat down at the dinner table, I loved that 4 ounces of salmon as much as my favorite pasta.
I had always believed my death would be noble, exciting, tragically romantic. But, no. I’m pretty sure the culprit of my death will be simple packaging. Either I will get a flesh eating infection from cutting myself trying to liberate my daily vitamins, or I will simply starve to death because I can’t get any of the packages that contain life-saving nutrients open.
In an effort to prevent my death as long as possible, I, like many middle-aged women, decided it was time to start taking a vitamin supplement. It’s literally a hard pill to swallow, because it means the time has come that your body is holding out on all the wonderful things it used to give you in your youth. Such as, oh, hormones, vitamins and the stuff that keeps your bones strong. (At least that’s what the bottle claims.) So, anyhoo, I woke up convinced that I was doing the right thing, and this was one step into prolonging my life.
Until I tried to open the bottle. There was a clear wrap sealed around the cap—no tab to pull, no perforated lines I could see, (even with my reader glasses). Just a slippery, tight seal. No worries, I grabbed my trusty kitchen knife, pried up the seal, which, by the way stretched and refused to break until I was literally holding it down on the counter and using all my might. Finally I poked enough of a hole in it to slice it off. I pulled the cap off and damn! There was another tight paper seal covering the top of the bottle. This one did have the tiniest tab that was meant to be used to pull the top off, but it was too tiny to grip with any strength, and as I tugged at it I wondered what people who have arthritis do. What would I do ten years from now? But again, my trusty knife saved me, as I speared the paper and pulled it off. Then, there was a huge piece of cotton stuffed into the top. At this point I just went directly at it with the knife. My fingers wouldn’t fit far enough in to grasp it, so I just tipped the bottle, speared the offending cotton with my knife and drug it out. Excellent! I quickly doled out the vitamin and took it, hoping it would begin working immediately and offset the five minute of my life I just lost trying to get the bottle open.
In keeping with good health, and being diabetic, I vowed to check my blood sugar even more often than usual. Adding an exercise routine to a diabetic lifestyle is always a little tricky, as healthier bodies usually require a little less insulin, and thus results in more blood sugar lows than normal, requiring insulin adjustments as you go. Not a problem when you plan for it, like I always do, but again, I lost precious minutes from my life trying to get the new box of test strips open. I wonder this—if you put something in a thick box that can be closed with a tab, what is the reason for taping the tab closed with industrial tape? The result is, with the help of the kitchen knife of course, the tab stays completely closed and I end up tearing the box apart around it. It’s like tearing an envelope apart without ever opening the seal. It makes no sense!
At this point I must say that there is a slim chance getting older just makes navigating packages harder. I really don’t think that is the case here. Especially if you’ve ever had to use a pair of scissors, to, you know, cut a pair of scissors out of the package.
So, after a day of taking my vitamin, drinking my tea (which required the kitchen knife to open,) testing my blood sugar and eating right, I felt pretty great when I went to bed. I had stocked the fridge with high protein/high sugar drinks in case of low blood sugar, it had to be better than Oreos or Nutter Butter bars. I was pretty pleased with myself as I drifted off to sleep.
Several hours later I awoke to the familiar feeling of low blood sugar. It’s a very distinct feeling that I can only describe as my bones turning to liquid. It feels like my body is shriveling into itself, and is accompanied by a surge of adrenaline that causes tunnel vision, trembling and confusion. Being an old pro, however, I jumped out of bed and headed for the kitchen. I grabbed a bottle of the delicious chocolate protein drink and sat down at the table. The great thing about liquid sugar is that you can pound it like a frat boy pounds a beer and just sit back and wait for it to kick in. Taffy, peanut butter and anything else that is sticky in nature is a nightmare to eat when you’re on the verge of passing out, and to be avoided except in case of extreme emergencies.
I tried to twist the cap of my chocolate drink, and, again, due to confusion, didn’t immediately understand why it wasn’t coming off. I tried, I tried again, then I got up and retrieved the flat rubber gripper thing that helps with tight lids. Nothing happened. Panic-stricken I realized the reason. The damn lid was covered with a clear plastic seal, just like the vitamins! Dammit! After all the dieting and exercising the last thing I wanted to do was eat 1,000 calories in cookies. I tried desperately to find a tab to grab or pull, and seriously considered grabbing the kitchen knife. But, no. It is never a good idea to do battle with a bottle using a sharp knife when your hands are shaking, you can’t see straight and your knees feel like they’re going to abandon you at any time. I calmly set the bottle down and went for the Nutter Butters.
Diabetes is a disease of irony. Sugar, the very thing that can bring us to an early death and is strictly forbidden, is also the one thing that can save our lives at a time like this. To be eaten with reckless abandon until the episode passes, and this particular night it had been weeks since I’d had any kind of sugary treat. So honestly, aside from the scary feeling, shaking, sweating and all that, secretly I sometimes embrace the low blood sugar episodes.
Desperate and pissed about the turn of events, I grabbed a yogurt and a Nutter Butter Bar. The Nutter Butter opened easily, with a small tear of my teeth. The yogurt was slightly harder, but determined, I grabbed the foil seal with my canine teeth and pulled a small bit off. I remembered when you could just pull the plastic lid off yogurt, but now it comes with its super-protective, super tight seal. It was as I battled the yogurt that I saw my death. I would be found in the morning, unopened food packages strewn about the kitchen, some thrown against the wall like an animal in a primitive attempt to release the contents, my final words smeared in the splattered chocolate milk or yogurt…
Alas, I finally freed the yogurt, and in the grand manner that only a panicked diabetic can pull off, I used the Nutter Butter as a spoon to shovel the yogurt into my mouth as fast as I could, eating the delicious peanut buttery spoon with each bite. I obviously lived to see another day, but am considering taking up activism to fight for the equal rights of all people to have access to good food. And I mean access quite literally.
“May the bird of paradise fly up your nose, may an elephant caress you with his toes…” Those were the lyrics of a song by Little Jimmy Dickens that my parents used to listen to when I was growing up. I’ve always remembered the words to this song, and as an adult I realized this song was all about Karma. And if ever there was a time to call upon Karma, this morning was it.
I hiked to the bus stop on Broadway to catch the 0 bus to work, and as I approached the bus shelter I saw a man I have come to refer to as our local Camper. He’s older, and sleeps along the canal road in a small shelter he made for himself out of branches and logs. He’s always been respectful when our paths cross. He’s never asked for money, and is always up early to break his camp and get on the road. Usually I see him tramping up Broadway with his backpack, I suspect heading nowhere in particular.
Occasionally he was at the bus shelter before I arrived, and was always courteous as I approached. If he was smoking a cigarette, he would step around the back of the shelter so I wouldn’t have to smell it. If not, he would stand up and move out of the shelter, insisting I take the seat to wait for the bus. He never spoke, but I got an occasional grunt and nod in response to my greeting.
Today he was standing next to the shelter, and two young men were sitting on the bench inside the shelter. I greeted the camper as I approached, and he nodded silently. He seemed out of sorts, at least as out of sorts as a stranger can be. I noticed immediately that the two young men also appeared to be homeless—their several layers of clothes were filthy, as were their hands and the white plastic bags that held their belongings. They sat on the bench inside the shelter, smoking cigarettes and talking. Their conversation was laced with expletives, and they acted as if they hadn’t noticed my arrival. I wondered how, and why the Camper came to be hanging out with these two. Clearly they were not of the same caliber of people he was.
The Camper seemed frustrated and a little embarrassed at the behavior of his two friends, and avoided making any eye contact with me. I stood to the other side of the shelter, trying to avoid the cigarette smoke, vulgar conversation and general stink of these two youngsters. When the bus arrived, however, the Camper stood up and took the front of the line, they motioned for me to get on first. I thanked him, paid my fare and took a seat near the front.
The stinky young men flashed their transfers and headed to the back of the bus, where they continued their awful interaction. I was glad they hurried to the back and hopefully, after putting on my headphones, I wouldn’t have to listen to them anymore. After fishing my headphones out of my bag, I looked up to see the driver and the Camper in a discussion. The Camper’s eyes narrowed, and he hollered at the two men in the back of the bus.
“Hey man, I need that transfer you promised.” That explained a lot. He was hanging with them because they promised him a free bus ride, probably downtown to a food bank or shelter where he could get something to eat. I suspect he traded cigarettes for the promise. Downtown was a good five or six mile walk. I couldn’t fault him for that exchange.
“Dude, sorry. We only have one for two of us.” The two laughed at having fooled the old man. The Camper’s eyes glowed with rage, and I could tell he would love to get them alone in a dark alley. And I kind of hoped he would someday. He couldn’t mask the shame he must have felt, as everyone on the bus looked at him, knowing he would be put off the bus because of lack of fare. The pride on his face at that moment reminded me of my father. A man who was proud of who he was, regardless of circumstance.
I pulled out my book of transit passes and walked up to the driver.
“I’ll pay this fare.” I said. The Camper looked me directly in the eyes and gave me a slight nod. I don’t know which was harder for him to accept—being duped by a couple of stinky bums, or having to accept my help. I smiled at him and hoped he would go directly to the back of the bus and confront the little snots, as their laughing had died down when they realized he would be riding the bus with them after all.
But he didn’t. He took the first seat at the front of the bus, placed his backpack at his feet, and silently faced the front.
I, however, invoked the power of Karma. “May the bird of paradise fly up your snotty, stinky, horrible little noses.
Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it’s off to the gym I go…
Well, I did it. I joined the however many other millions of Americans who decided to get healthy by committing to a gym this year. I do feel a bit superior to them because Robert and I actually joined Youfit gym about a month ago, in hopes of staving off the devastating effects of holiday feeding. Technically, I’m a veteran gym goer by about 30 days.
So it was from atop my high treadmill that I looked down over the crowd to check out all the newcomers. The class room, which to date had been void of any activity, was now full of more than 20 women, and one man, dancing, stepping and skipping their way through what looked like a hip-hop exercise class. Many of the ladies had ample assets that they threw around, and their brightly colored Spandex pants accentuated their movements. I made several mental cracks to myself about the goings-on in that classroom. None of my thoughts were nice, and many were down-right mean if they had been said out loud. I don’t know why we, as humans, feel the need to crack jokes at the expense of others, but there was plenty of fodder to feed my petty soul as I watched them bouncing around.
We took our turns at the weight-lifting machines, Robert and I alternating as we grunted and worked our way through the routine. Between my reps I checked out the hard-core gym-goers who hang out in the free-weight area. These are the buff, pretty people, who make Spandex look like its on the store model. The buff guy with the big guns did pull-ups, the tattooed lady lunged across the floor with what looked to be a ton of weights on her back. The two young men alternated adding more weight to their leg presses.
But I kept being drawn to the room of dancing people. Many were uncoordinated and had a hard time keeping in step with the enthusiastic instructor, but the fellow seemed to be getting better, and some of the women I assumed wouldn’t last 10 minutes were still hanging in there. “Must be a 30 minute class,” I thought. “I could do that for 30 minutes,” I thought.
After the weights we took to some light aerobic exercise, and another 30 minutes later they were still hip-hopping in that room. I couldn’t believe it. All my horrible thoughts about “those” people not being able to stick it out, and they were kicking my judgmental ass. I had done moderate exercise the entire time, and they had all been going full throttle for more than an hour! I used my new workout towel that Becky gave me for Christmas to wipe the egg off my face.
New New Year’s Resolution: Don’t be so damn judgmental.
Dance, Dance, Dance
I felt pretty good about my conscientious eating choices for the day, and was feeling even better about my daily exercise. Robert and I are taking country dance lessons, so I was looking forward to a break from jogging and walking for a night of Western Cha-Cha. We are relatively new to the sport, but he gifted me with some spectacular boots for Christmas, so it really didn’t matter if I danced well or not, the boots made me look good anyway.
The Stampede, Denver’s premier Dance Emporium, is the scene of our latest undertaking, and I must admit is a pretty sweet set-up. Dance lessons are $3 each, and include a free fajita bar and $2 drinks. It’s a pretty big place, and very popular for country music fans. The clientele and dynamic are interesting to watch, with the early evening hours being frequented mostly by the middle-age to elderly crowd, such as ourselves, who are there for the free food, lessons and the chance to promenade around the mostly empty dance floor.
Having become Friday night regulars, we are beginning to see the same people there each week. My favorite is an older couple, who seem to be holding each other up as they dance around the floor slowly. She is thin and bent over at the waist, but wears the most elaborate outfits, including her fancy boots. He shuffles along, holding her arm as they step up onto the dance floor, then, like the game we played as children where we pushed against each other and relied on the tension to keep us both from tipping over, they dance the night away, slowly, to their own rhythm and pace. They’re delightful.
Then there’s “show off girl.” I think she is or must have been a dancer, because she always has the fake smile of a performer on her face, and doesn’t really follow any of the formal dances, but twirls and twists like its her own personal stage. Her partners are merely platforms to showcase her talent, and they obligingly offer their hand for twirling as she smiles and gestures grandly to her imaginary audience. I begrudgingly admit she has an extraordinary sense of rhythm, but she doesn’t look really happy when she dances.
Unlike Robert and I, who have a diminished sense of rhythm, but try hard and end up laughing as we are about to be run over by the crowd of dancers who always seem to be tidal waving us. Country dancing involves constantly moving forward, much like roller skating rinks. If you are caught unaware, as we often are, you look up to see the entire group heading your way. The elders, and the learners, are pretty considerate and will laugh at us as they dance around use, but as the night wears on the floor gets more crowded and there’s less room for error within the crowd.
We are definitely getting better though, and are slowly mastering the two-step, the twelve-step and the County Cha-Cha, which is proving to be one of my favorites because it feels like we’re actually dancing with each other, instead of just following the crowd. We will persevere, but I think next week we will take a break and go to Lincoln’s Roadhouse, where we can dance with reckless abandon, and not only will we not be judged as we bounce around with no formal footwork, but everyone else in the joint will be doing the same.
Another Year Older…
Yesterday signaled the end of one year. 365 days. But as I reflect on the past year, it feels to me like it is the end of a lifetime, and the beginning of a new one.
2013 brought me the news that Jess was going to have a baby, and a short nine months later, Petra was here. Jess and Za moved to Colorado and settled into a nice home in Longmont, and I moved into a nice home with Robert, where both of our families merged nicely for the holidays. I spend a good portion of my time tending house, which I actually enjoy. Hosting parties, cooking dinners and enjoying meals and leisure time in front of the fire turns out to be things I enjoy very much, although they are a lifetime away from my tiny apartment downtown, where the morning cup of coffee was the only thing I ever really cooked and enjoyed there.
For more than 20 years I mostly lived the life of a single woman, not worrying about a mate or what they would or would not want. I lived a life of survival while Jess was at home, then one of indulgence and often gluttony as I bounced from place to place, telling myself it was only until Jess settled down and gave me grandchildren, then I would consider settling myself.
And here it is.
Time for me to think about my future. And maybe apply myself just a little bit.
My immediate future holds for me, for the first time in more than a decade, the challenge of losing weight. I’ve gotten soft and fat (or at least 12 pounds bigger) since I quit smoking, fell in love and moved to the suburbs. Like most of my life, I haven’t had to put a lot of thought into my weight, and could enjoy McDonald’s for breakfast, Taco Bell for lunch and mac and cheese for dinner without gaining weight. I like to pretend it’s the not smoking that has led to my weight gain, but the stubborn roll that has settled around my belly is screaming “pre-menopause.”
My easy choices are endless. The internet is ripe with quick-fixes. Garcinia, Green Coffee Bean Extract, body cleanses and dozens of other products that claim to melt the fat away without my having to actually do anything. Unfortunately, I know better, so while it’s tempting to try them, I think I will shy away from the easy route and try the old-fashioned cure; smaller portions, more exercise, less alcohol.
Maybe an old-fashioned corset will be the answer.
THE ADVENTURES OF BIG DAVE…
I have successfully completed my move to the suburbs, and although I still rely on, and thoroughly enjoy taking public transportation, I have purchased what I deem the “Colorado State Car” to get me around in case of emergencies and on weekend when the buses don’t run to my area. I am the proud owner of a Volvo station wagon, which accounts for probably one-third of all cars on the road in Denver. The other one-third are Subarus, and the remaining one-third make up all other cars on the road.
My particular Volvo is silver and came with a ridiculously cheap price tag, perhaps because the previous owner may have died in it. I’m not sure what the story is other than the man died, had a lot of health problems, many of which I suspect were self-inflicted, and his family wanted to get rid of the vehicle as quickly as possible. I drained my car fund and handed over the cash, fully aware that the car needed quite a bit of work and may be haunted. I call it Big Dave, after its owner, whom I assume was a big man because of all the crumbs, candy wrappers and chunks of hamburgers I found under the seats as I was cleaning the car.
It’s been more than two years since I have driven regularly, and I am hyper-aware now of pedestrians and cyclists as Big Dave and I cruise the burbs. I find my old habits behind the wheel are insufficient here now, as I roll through crosswalks and occasionally disregard the yield signs hidden behind trees at intersections. I’d forgotten how driving gives me the opportunity to see things differently, and to spend time in my head as I wait at lights with other drivers. The faint smell of anti-freeze and a small exhaust leak take me back in time to when Jess was still little, and I had purchased an old Chevy Citation for $400. It smelled the same way the entire time I owned it, which included kids starting school, commuting to my first “real” job, and passing it down to Becky after I purchased a new car.
My time spent in the Citation included a lot of time with my older sister Debbie, as we raised our kids together, lived next door to each other, went through divorces, jobs and boyfriends together. We were thick as thieves, and as long as Debbie told me things would be okay I knew they would be. As I cruise around in Big Dave I long for those days again. Tragically, Debbie has disappeared from my life, after having spent more than a year in a rehab facility, battling her addiction to drugs and alcohol. I had high hopes that she had conquered her demons, and for a while was sure that she would win. I looked forward to the day I would see her again, the old sister that I grew up with. But for reasons unknown to me, she left the program and last I heard was headed for the streets.
I have dealt with my emotions about Debbie largely through denial and ignorance. If I just don’t think about her, or her circumstances, or the horrible truth about addiction, then I could pretend there was nothing wrong. I could pretend it would all work out. Now my thoughts are filled with anger and fear. Anger that she walked away from the one program that could help her, and fear of where she is now. Anger because I don’t have a bunch of money to pay to fix her, and fear that she is not fixable.
Like Big Dave, I know she has a lot of things that are wrong with her. But, like Big Dave, I’ve always believed she was a solid person and with a little help could become great again…
My first grandchild, Petrichor Quimby Augustus finally decided to grace us with her presence late Saturday night. Petrichor means the scent of rain and Quimby is a family name. We call her Petra, and spend most of our day staring at her beautiful face as she sleeps. I am at a loss for words to describe my feelings about this new addition to my family. Looking down at her is just like looking at Jessica 25 years ago. They look exactly the same, and I can hardly believe that this is my granddaughter.
Jess was a trooper through the birth, sticking to her plan not to use an epidural or medication. Her labor was long and hard, about 48 hours from start to finish. But she pushed all 8 lbs 15 oz of beautiful baby out. When I saw Jessica right after the delivery, I nearly panicked, but managed to hold myself together. My little girl looked so pale, and had broken blood vessels in her eyes from pushing. She looked small and scared in the big hospital bed, and even though she was now a mother herself I wanted to pick her up in my arms and rock her.
Now that we’re home I am seeing the great mother Jessica is, and reminded of how powerful the instinct is. Seeing my baby with her own baby is amazing, and literally leaves me speechless.
A NOT SO RIGHTEOUS RUN…
With cooler temperatures I resumed my daily run in the park near the office. It’s about three miles around the park on the dirt path, with a smaller concrete path below. I’ve been running, or rather walking mostly, for more than a year, and have come to see a lot of the same people exercising. Bike riding through in the morning on the way to work I run across the morning walkers, who are out with their dogs and/or friends and enjoying the start of a new day. Biking through the park in the evening on the way home, there are soccer moms killing time, and horribly annoying cyclists who think they’re riding in the Tour De France and own the pathway. Then there are the mid-day joggers, such as myself. Nobody’s really happy, we’re all red-faced and huffing in the mid-day sun, with looks of disgust and pain on our faces. The nooners are there just to get our exercise out of the way. There are no smiles, nods, or small-talk as we pass each other. There is only the desperate look of determination to get it over with.
When I first started jogging around the park last year, I came across a relatively young man, perhaps early 40’s, who was struggling at one of the workout stations surrounding the path. He was slowly working on doing sit-ups, and I thought he looked a little weak for such a young man. Then he got up and began walking, and it was obvious he was recovering from a stroke. He tediously drug his leg along behind the rest of his body, his arm hanging limply at his side. I had circled the park and was on my way back in the time it had taken him to drag himself to the next exercise station, where he was forcing himself to clutch the bar in front of him while he stretched. I watched him slowly get a little stronger each week, but haven’t seen him this summer, since I’ve mainly been riding my bike for exercise.
But I saw him again today. And I barely recognized him. He still has a slight limp, and if you look closely you can tell one arm hangs lower than the other, but aside from being a little slow, you would never know he was the same broken man from a year ago. He jogged slowly from station to station, and even though I passed him on the trail, my little 30-minute jog seemed insignificant compared to the great lengths that stranger has gone to for his own health.
I stepped up my pace slightly to assuage my guilty feelings of my inadequate workout, and was feeling pretty righteous again as I rounded the corner at the far end of the park. The exercise station there is one that’s used for upper body workouts, including a pull-up bar. I once made a goal of being able to do one chin-up, and actually exceeded it by doing two pull-ups, and I remembered my glory days fondly as I approached the station. After all, nor many 40-something-year-olds could even do one pull-up. Or so I thought. An older man, another regular I had seen circling the park for exercise, planted himself beneath the bar. What was left of his hair was gray, making me believe he was nearing 60. He reached up and grabbed the bar with both hands, and almost effortlessly, pulled himself up above the bar. Wow, I was impressed. Then he did it again. And again. And again. Twelve pull-ups he did, without shaking arms or struggling with his legs to kick himself up and over.
He finished and caught me watching him. I applauded and gave him a thumbs up, and he smiled big and took off walking to the next station. Although my muscles thanked me for the meager workout, I didn’t feel as good as I had hoped after my jog, but am determined to run a little faster, do at least five sit ups and attempt the pull-up thing again tomorrow.