Anyone who has set, strived for, and achieved a goal probably has had this experience: You work, sweat, improve, backslide, endure disappointment, reenergize, recommit, work, sweat, improve, rinse, repeat….and one day, you prevail. And then…
Someone forgets to cue the choir of angels. The putt for 69 drops, the ball sails over the fence, the A in organic chemistry shines forth from the printout on the wall by the professor’s office…and there is a noticeable void where the fanfare was expected.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s still a nice moment. Smiles, a warmth around the heart, the pleasure of a happy phone call to a trusted friend who was shootin’ in the gym with you the whole time. But there is also the realization that not every achievement, no matter how big it seemed from below, presents an occasion for a wild dance of abandon on the summit. Whatever you have learned about struggle and patience along the way colors the victory, puts it in some kind of perspective that you have yet to understand.
And then there’s psychic habit. When you’ve been short of your goal for so long, you kind of get used to feeling incomplete, or even like a loser. Even the evidence of your victory can’t dissuade you from the feeling you’ve become use to — that you’re deficient in some way. After I started breaking 100 consistently, I still felt like a bad golfer, even though the statistics said I had gotten better and anecdotal reports from friends (grudgingly) attested to the improved efficiency of my swing. Being a bad golfer was all I knew. (I still know it, in a relative way. I’ve only broken 90 four times in my life.)
I have fought my weight all my post-college life. Perhaps I haven’t fought hard enough, because I love to eat. Match that personality with a barrel-shaped eastern European body, and you can understand how even in the best eras of personal fitness, I can never approach the slate-abs narrowness of the modern archetype of male beauty.
Check the title of this column again. It says I don’t know how to be thin. I know how to get that way. Done it a dozen times. Most recently I lost weight to secure my career in television (ha–see how well that worked out), and many people I encountered at work noticed, which was encouraging. Now that that necessity is gone, and owing to my affection for cooking and food, I have gained a lot of that weight back, although the net is still down from five years ago, when I began the campaign.
At the same time, I was playing adult baseball in a league for men age 38 and older. I desperately wanted to get below 200 pounds so I would be faster, leaner, stronger. It took awhile, but I did it, briefly. I showed up at hitting practice one day (I worked with a friend who is a good coach) and reported my weight at 201.
“Hell,” he said. “You’re just a good shit away.”
Indeed. But without artificial changes to my intestinal traffic, I was able to work my way down to 197 pounds for awhile. It took a huge organizational effort of will that had me thinking about food — what to eat, what not to eat, and when — as much as someone who obsesses about it on the unhealthy end of the eating spectrum.
Still, 197 was a huge victory. But having felt “fat” for so long, I really didn’t know how else to feel. Counting myself among the thin of the world felt jinxy, like some sort of modern hubris. I sure enjoyed some of the skinnier clothes I could wear, and my baseball and golf improved. But in the grand scheme of the world, of the soul’s duty to love people, seek God in earth’s details, and be kind to children….why should the universe care about my mountaintop? And if the universe didn’t overemphasize it, how could I?
In the end, 197 was a lifestyle I couldn’t support in any natural-feeling way. When I stopped playing baseball, I began to get rounder. Advancing age (I’m 51) made weight loss harder and certain kinds of exercise riskier. My passion for good food did not diminish.
Still, my duty to myself and those who love me made some sort of action necessary. And so I joined a walk-run program sponsored by a local running store. It’s designed to introduce people to running, or to provide formerly active folks like me a way back into the sport while reducing the chances of injury.
It’s fun. The people are nice (although some would rather be left alone to get the work done), the coach is conscientious, and the pace is both responsibly measured and challenging. Already I’m seeing strength gains, and moderate weight loss, just a few weeks in. We walk, run, walk, run some more, eventually running all the time.
But now, at this age and knowing what I know, it’s different. There is no number, no mountaintop. No waist size in sight, no one to attract but my wife of 22 years and whatever ego-puffing momentary glances I imagine may come my way from the moms at my son’s school at dropoff time. Fitness is what I want, a chance to avoid the wheelchair that my poor Dad has been condemned to because he worked so hard for us kids that he couldn’t allow himself permission to pursue anything so selfish as exercise. (Depression-era kids always put themselves last in adulthood.)
My goal now is to make it to my 90s with a sound mind in a reasonably sound body, to walk easily enough, to keep doing yoga until I need a ride to the lessons. This will take some of the grace of God, but I have to do my part. I want to live long enough to prove my theory that God created donuts to be eaten…maybe less often, but they sure aren’t there to be ignored. God is not a sadist.
So whatever goal(s) I reach, there will be no fanfare. I’ll be too busy learning how to be thin. — Adam Barr
Copyright 2012 Adam Barr