I won’t do the math or muster up more metaphors of clocks measured in years; I’m sixty-two. How old that is, really, is hard to say. Some days, like those this past week, I can hike miles upon miles up steep slopes in the very thin atmosphere of seven thousand feet in 100 degree weather, and no matter how many times I had to stop and scratch my last will and testament into a stone, my need to push on and finish—really, my passion to reach our destination—was never in question, and not only did I make it, I felt a new surge of energy once I did. Screw you sixty-two.
But other times pulling myself out of bed to go for a walk at sea level is akin to clawing my way through dirt and stone out of a grave. It’s not that I can’t breathe; it’s that I really don’t feel like it anymore.
When I worked at the health club in New England, one thing the owner drilled into us during long weeks of training: the vast majority of our members’ primary problem would not be weight, it would be depression or anxiety or, worst of all, apathy. The weight would be a symptom of a deeper problem more difficult to address.
I’ll never forget sitting in my small office with the owner of the club and a member who needed to lose more than one hundred pounds. She asked point blank if she looked as fat as she felt and without missing a beat he responded, “Yes, of course!”
I looked for a hole in the floor to drop through.
But then, also without missing a beat, he added, “Did you want me to lie to you? That would only help you continue to lie to yourself. But so what? It is who you are! You want to feel better about your life! Of course you want to lose the weight, but more importantly, you need to stop feeling bad about yourself! You’re beautiful, no matter how other people make you feel! You need to surround yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself! Then you will, and the weight will be easier to address.”
She cried at the truth. It’s like he knew her pain firsthand, and, of course, he did. I stopped thinking of her and started thinking of me and nearly cried right there at my truth. This was almost forty years ago. It’s still that difficult sometimes. Today is a good example; when clarity sets in.
But at some point, it’s time to stop apologizing for who you are and start being honest with yourself and, in turn, others. It’s time to stop apologizing to others because the choices you make are not the one’s they wanted you to.
“Your first step is not into this studio with Bob,” he added. “It is to find the courage to be honest with yourself and say to everyone, ‘This is me!’ and ‘This is what I’m going to do about it. People who don’t support you are probably the cause of the problem to begin with.”
Some of us wait in hope some solution falls in our lap, but we end up with the same problems decades on.
Some of us want everyone else to be happy but end up unable to pull ourselves out of bed.
Some of us worry about what others will think and explain ourselves instead of finally saying, “You want to know what happened, ask. You want to know how I feel, ask.”
Some of us are afraid to close any doors in fear we chose the wrong ones; we “wanted it perfect but waited too long,” as lyricists Marilyn and Alan Bergman wrote.
Some are martyrs, some are indifferent, or most tragic of all, frozen in fear of shattering what little hope they still have, what little life we still have. Some of us know exactly what to do to change our lives and get back on track, whether it be as challenging as losing weight the equivalent of another human, or simply being honest with ourselves and not rationalizing away the years.
I’m sixty-two-years-old. Sort of. I’m twenty-six. Kind of.
I’m eligible for Social Security. I’m walking nearly twenty-thousand steps a day.
Sure there are legitimate problems for which simply willing them away won’t work. But at the very least we need to stop inviting the problems inside, allowing them to fester, allowing them to dictate, to decide, to die with us or tear us apart.
Certainly, age is relentless. It is persistent and patient. Not one fat second will lose an ounce on our account. My students quip, “Oh man, you’re that old!” and I’ve learned to say, “Yeah. I am. And not so long ago I was twenty-three, and I nailed it. I did twenty-three great, but nothing like I did twenty-four and thirty two and…. It’s not the age, people, it’s how you do the age.“
It’s my call: I can wallow in the reality that I’ve entered the fourth quarter, or I can keep climbing, through thin air and dry lungs, keep climbing. Richard the club owner was right: nothing improves, nothing, nothing at all improves until you start to feel good about yourself.
“Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock people. Times ticking away.” Yeah, at some point, it’s time to feel good again.