Oops

On Tuesday, I was sitting in my living room, ready to head off to the gym for an hour on the elliptical.  Since I hadn’t eaten for awhile, I plucked a power bar from the cupboard.  “Better have something to wash it down with, Bruce.”  I picked a Diet Coke.  The beginning of oops.

Firmly positioned on my steed at Wellington Fitness, I flung my arms and legs into space.  Hmm.  I didn’t feel as strong as I usually did.  In fact, I was exhausted after the hour.  Then it was 20 minutes of yoga … but something was amiss.  Why was I so tired?

On the drive home, the nausea hit.  Mild but irritating.  And it stayed with me for the rest of the day.  That evening, I went to a meditation group in London.  At one point, the leader talked about a possible benefit of meditation: a decrease in reactivity.  Since I’ve learned that others often find it helpful for me to talk about what’s happening in the present moment, I spoke up.  “I’m feeling exhausted and nauseous, probably because I drank a Diet Coke just before exercising.  My recent retreat was helpful in dealing with stuff like this.  Although I had a burst of telling myself I was stupid, that self-condemnation passed quickly.  I felt into my body and into my feelings (sadness) and after awhile I was left with just the physical pain, not endless thoughts about what it meant.”  It was a contribution, and I was pleased.

The pain got worse overnight.  Hardly any sleep till 3:00 am, when I started consuming Tums and Gas-X.  Not to mention a laxative.  I also placed a barf bucket close to my bed.  Proliferating thoughts returned.  “It’s the flu.  I’ll be out of commission for the next two weeks.  Tomorrow’s my birthday and I need to cancel all the cool things I’ve planned.  What a horrible way to spend my special day!”  I phoned my hairstylist’s answering machine right then and cancelled my 10:00 am appointment.  “And I’d better cancel my volunteer time this afternoon with the Grade 6’s.  And my dinner with my friend (I’ll call her Mary).”

And then I fell asleep.  I was awake at 6:30 and feeling some better.  I looked at those earlier thoughts, and within a minute of two, decided that they no longer applied.  I phoned my hairstylist and left another message that I was coming.

The vague nausea continued throughout the day.  “Surely a reaction to Diet Coke wouldn’t last this long!  I must have the flu.”  Blah, blah, blah.  Despite what my body felt like and what my mind was churning out, I saw the opportunity.  “It’s easy, Bruce, to be happy when your life is rolling along smoothly.  How cool would it be to enjoy your birthday while this pain does its thing?”

Here’s what happened:

1. My hairsylist (I’ll call her Jessica) counted down with me to 10:00 am (my time of birth, according to mom).  At the dot of 10, I rose from the chair as Jessica squealed “Happy Birthday!”  We hugged, and all was right with the world.

2. At about 1:15, the Grade 6 kids sang “Happy Birthday” to me.  I tried to convince them that I was 45 but those young ones are just too smart.  For the rest of the afternoon, I had some fun conversations with 11-year-olds.  Yay for volunteering!

3. Mary and I had a fine time at Boston Pizza.  My meal was ginger ale, chicken noodle soup and a garden salad with a non-creamy dressing.  Just what I needed.  And so was our talk.  Mary has been having a tough time lately and I think she heard me when I suggested she feel her pain deeply but not to linger on it, then to stand tall and continue moving her life towards happiness.

***

I’m happy.  This morning I woke up to energy and a calm stomach.  No flu.  I went back on the elliptical (without a Diet Coke appetizer).  I lived my birthday.  And I’m committed to doing good in the world no matter what my body is telling me.

Geekly Walking

There was Bruce in 1966 and then there’s Bruce in 2016.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed attending golf tournaments.  I love standing behind the tee and watching the top pros hit the ball high and far.  Sometimes it feels like it will never come down.  Then, as the golfers head down the fairway, I motor down the rough, either pausing where their balls stopped or stepping up the pace towards the green to watch the approach shots.

Back in 1966, I’d walk 36 holes every day, following one group in the morning and another in the afternoon.  Feeling my oats.  In 2016, however, my feet are saying no to such heroics.  I saw 27 holes on Thursday, about 23 on Friday, and 18 yesterday.  But so what?  I was out there seeing Brooke Henderson hit the ball.  My feet were really sore at the end of the day.  But my soul was singing.

I love the journey of golf.  I’m not the type to plunk myself down by a green and watch 50 golfers parade through.  There are the agonies and ecstasies of 18 holes, and I want to see them.  A well placed cushioning pad on my left foot diminished the pain and allowed me to be there to see Brooke fall and rise.

I developed blood clots a few years ago in my left leg.  They’re now dissolved, thanks to the medication I’ll be taking for the rest of my life.  But the leg really swells up on long car trips or lengthy ambles over the green grass … if left unattended.  Attention means wearing compression stockings – long black fellows that come almost to the knee.  In winter, I don’t give a hoot, but warm weather produces a t-shirt and shorts on my bod, so my stockings are in full view.  There have been times in the last two years when I’ve been too embarrassed to wear them, and I’ve paid the price.  This week, my black legs are on display.  People stare a bit.  Maybe it doesn’t make sense to them to see an “old” fellow boogieing down the rough in search of golf shots.  Oh well.  It makes great sense to me.

There will come a time when I won’t be able to walk near Brooke for a full round.  I’ll be sitting beside that green holding a cold one.  But that time is not now.  In two hours, I’ll be standing near the first tee as she hits her initial shot of the day.  I’ll be all decked out in designer black, ready to ramble.  It makes me happy.

 

Beyond

Since getting home in December from my long retreat, I’ve started lifting weights.  I want to be strong.  My hours of meditation in Massachusetts were often sublime, often other-worldly peaceful.  But doing the chest press at World Gym is bringing something else out of me.

Marcin, my personal trainer, tells me that I need to “explode” on the push and then go slow on the release.  I tried exploding but it was more like a little sparkler catching fire.  Until a few days ago.  Something inside me ramped up.  My lips set tight.  I almost growled.  “I’m doing this!”  And today I did it some more, with a fierceness that I didn’t recognize.  Talk about the yin and the yang … meditation and determination, both lighting up the present moment.

Way back in my brain cells, I remembered a woman staggering to the finish in an Olympic marathon.  The awe from long ago seeped into today.  So I Googled, and here’s what I found:

Gabriela Andersen-Schiess is a former Swiss long-distance runner who participated in the first women’s Olympic marathon at the 1984 Summer Olympics.  Though living in Idaho and working as a ski instructor at the time, Andersen-Schiess represented Switzerland in the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

Fourteen minutes into the 1984 Olympic marathon, Joan Benoit began to pull away from the rest of the pack.  She went on to win in a time of 2 hours, 24 minutes, and 52 seconds.  Twenty minutes after Benoit finished, then 39-year-old Andersen-Schiess entered the stadium.

The crowd gasped in horror as she staggered onto the track, her torso twisted, her left arm limp, her right leg mostly seized.  She waved away medical personnel who rushed to help her, knowing that, if they touched her, she would be disqualified.  The L.A. Coliseum crowd applauded and cheered as she limped around the track in the race’s final 400 meters, occasionally stopping and holding her head.

While the effects of her heat exhaustion were plainly evident, trackside medics saw that she was perspiring, which meant that her body still had some disposable fluids, and let her continue her march to the finish line.  At the completion of this final lap—which took Andersen-Schiess five minutes and 44 seconds—she fell across the finish line.  She finished 37th, ahead of seven other runners.

Oh my.  You can see Gabriela on several YouTube videos.  Infinitely beyond the chest press but really they both have the same incredible intensity.  I think we humans need to express some of that.  And we need to be moved to tears sometimes when others stretch themselves, as thousands of folks were in that California stadium 32 years ago.