I sit in the boarding area for Alaskan Airlines Flight 340 and listen to the ridiculous parade of adjectives for flyer upgrades.
Top Tier. Gold Elite Class. First Class. Business Class. Firstborn Prodigal Son Class. Certified Genius Class. People Who Floss Regularly Class. Strong Jawbone Class. Women in Beautiful Painful Shoes Class. Preferred First One Gold Tier Business.
It seems “What’s the status of my flight?” has become “What’s my status on the flight?”
Everyone wants to feel special. The need is so intense, so intimate to people that they are willing to purchase status with dollars and repeat business. They want to buy deference and exclusivity. They want to buy kindness.
I want to give them all a hug.
Sometimes, I think “Oh, they just want a better experience. That’s totally understandable.”Sometimes, I want a better experience. (Who does not like First Class?) But, sometimes, everything seems sad, and I (really) have no way to help anyone about to board this metal tube with me.
If I could, I suppose, I would go back to everyone’s childhood, and fix whatever might have gone wrong. Stop the (intended or unintended) slights, making sure no harm really lands. Because no matter how slight or small or unimportant they seem at the time, these rents that happen, these tears in our human fabric, will grow bigger with the hours, the days, the years of this life.
Little will become big … and life will take its toll. And then things like purchased deference and preference will put a fleeting balm on the deep ache inside, the ache that disturbs sleep and rattles relationships like a saber used in battle long ago, with a dark red stain that never seems to fade. The ache that never ever really seems to go away, no matter how much we massage or cuddle it.
But I can’t change the past. I can barely change myself. So, instead, I merely smile and joke and allow a few people to go ahead of me in the line, trying in some small way to make them feel better, to hug them without arms.
And then I board the plane.
I have done nothing. And, when the overhead bins are full and my bag gets gate-checked, I find myself wishing I was Preferred First One Gold Tier Business. I can smell the warm chocolate chip cookies behind the blue curtain, and I imagine the melting goo on my fingers, if I was seated up front with the lucky others …
We yearned and wished and earned and longed,
But nothing made us feel better.
Although we came close, so many times.
“This is it!” we thought — and then, “No, not it at all.”
“Maybe the next one.”
Finally, we sat back down.
But not for long.
“Respect was invented to cover the empty place where love should be.” — Leo Tolstoy, “Anna Karenina”
The barbell sat on the platform: lazy, indolent, insouciant. It had always been apathetic. Maybe that’s why she had to care so much about the lift, about the action, about the movement. Because the barbell didn’t give a f**k.
The others watched, in between their own lifts. They had no idea what really went on in her mind. They assumed she was lost in technical reminders, or movement tips.
Tight mid-line. Engage your hammies. Deep breath.
Maybe a little psych-up self-talk: You can do this. The bar is light. Get this.
Sometimes, she was — but sometimes, oh sometimes, she was lost deep in her mind, plunged into her hot, messy soul, unsure of where the surface was or how exactly to get there. Sometimes, her mind wandered so far so quickly so deeply that she was fairly certain she was just this side of madness.
Oddly, that did not worry her. Going mad was always an option, like an extra item on a bizarre menu. It was a dessert, and deserved after a long meal of sanity and rib-eye and sweet, soft, butter lettuce. Besides, if she were to go mad, she would go mad alone, on her own terms, maybe even in the middle of the lift. That would be the way to do it. With the barbell in her hands, with the last clanging cry of irony, that the iron would fail to save her. The iron that she had put so much trust in, proving to be incapable after all of stemming the madness.
So, if madness happened, it happened. Not much to worry about there.
Somewhere, long ago, she had realized that going mad was not the thing to be feared.Failing to think deeply enough to even glimpse madness — that was something to lose your breath over, and choke back a muffled scream. Living a life so shallow that you never plunged under the surface of your own thoughts, never almost drowned in your own emotions, never came sputtering to the surface of your life again, spitting and choking, just happy to breathe in the fresh air and draw it deep into your lungs. That was the life that worried her most: the life of void, the life of banality, the life of choking sameness, the yawning abyss of something other nameless faceless people had designated as “normal.” That was the life that truly frightened her. She could take madness. But she was not certain she could survive being just like everyone else. Cancer would not kill her. Or heart disease, or some strange flesh-eating bacteria. It would be ennui. Her brain would be eaten away by the nothingness of life. This was her nightmare.
If she were to go mad, she would rather just go mad mad. Angry mad. Howling mad. Screaming in the moonlight. Or, grunting as she tried to stand up under a heavy clean, the barbell in her confusing hands — those soft palms with the hard calluses. But certainly there would be iron somewhere, the plates clanging, if only in her head.
The others talked of madness like it was only something found by characters in dusty novels, or by old people in homes. But she knew where madness lived, and it was far closer than anyone realized.
She tightened her laces, and approached the bar.
“Most people have (with the help of conventions) turned their solutions toward what is easy and toward the easiest side of the easy; but it is clear that we must trust in what is difficult; everything alive trusts in it, everything, in Nature grows and defends itself any way it can and is spontaneously itself, tries to be itself at all costs and against all opposition. We know little, but that we must trust in what is difficult is a certainty that will never abandon us; it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be one more reason for us to do it.” — Rainer Maria Rilke, “Letters to a Young Poet”
You know, everything in your life could get worse. Megaworse. The “Holy shit my world just ended” worse kind of worse.
Listen to yourself when you think like this.
What’s the upside to thinking everything will get worse? You won’t be as disappointed when life does suck? You’re going to “protect” yourself by not getting your hopes up? “I could be miserable 20% of the time, so why not make myself miserable for 70% of the time and then it won’t suck so much.” Works, except for the fact that this kind of math sucks. And that attitude.
See, you get to decide how your life goes, by the very attitude and vibration that emanates from you. In essence, you get to choose brilliance or suck. And so why are you choosing suck?
“We see what we want to see in photos, and in this world. If the world is a dark and ugly place in our minds, then we see that reflected in photos. If we choose to believe in the good around us and we find inspiration in the everyday nobility of effort, in the commonplace heroism of a CrossFit gym, then life becomes a celebration of the indomitability of the human spirit. It becomes a place to try and learn and try again. And have fun doing so.
Every day, in so many ways, you’re choosing whether you’re going to a party or a funeral. I’m going to a party. It’s not perfect and we drop things and spill stuff and sometimes use words not fit for polite company, but it’s a lot better than sitting at home, bitching about what this life lacks, drugging yourself with food, numbing your mind with crap, and waiting to die. If you want to join us, open the doors to CrossFit and walk in. We’re alive. And this party has only started.”
The only thing I would change about that piece? I would say you need to open the doors to not just CrossFit, but open the doors to your mind. Hell, blow the doors off your mind. Party or funeral. Decide.
Some people get excited by the holidays, totally jazzed to spend time with all their family members.
Some folks don’t. Old haunts, history, or less-than-stellar encounters with family can make this time of year a difficult one. And meanwhile, the whole world goes on and on about how much fun the holidays are, but your stomach is a pit, knowing that you’re going to spend a lot of time and energy trying to avoid conflict. Instead of feeling relaxed, your guard is already up.
I’ve been in both these camps. Before I had kids, the holidays were (mostly) fantastic. But add in kids, divorce, coming out, ________ (fill in your issue here) and life changes a bit. What was without stress before may not be the same anymore. Try bringing your girlfriend to a Thanksgiving dinner where your family has also invited your ex-husband. “Awkward” doesn’t even begin to cover it. Instant Stressathon.
Then there’s the idea that everyone should dress formally or in the “selected” color. Yeah, not doing that anymore. I stood there one Christmas Eve, snapping a photo of my two boys in their Christmas ties, and then looked at the big red eyes on my younger son, who had been crying because he didn’t want to wear the starchy shirt, the dress pants, or the tie, and I thought, “This is stupid. I’d rather that he be happy than fit some expectation of my family.” And so life changed. For the better, too, I think.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I love my family and I love the holidays, but I love them even more since I learned to adjust. It’s okay to do things your way. It’s okay to breathe deep and walk outside. It’s okay to volunteer to sit at the “kid’s table” because the grown-up table makes you nuts. It’s okay to let your Asperger’s kid wear a flannel shirt and track pants because it makes him happy for the day.
What matters is not how others judge your behavior, but how you make people feel. If dressing up makes you and your kids feel great? Do it! If not, don’t. If staying all day at Uncle Ed’s makes you happy? Do it! But if you can only handle a few hours, do that instead. If you know that nothing offered at the holiday table will fit your nutrition requirements except the turkey? Eat the turkey. Smile. Be kind to your family members. And then go home and cook a steak and some Brussels sprouts.
Life doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to look perfect. The meal does not have to be perfect. And God knows your kids are not going to behave perfectly. Throw “perfect” out the window. It was a dream anyhow. Be real. Be happy. Be kind. Hug the people in your life. They won’t be here forever. And when you’re stressed out? Breathe, forgive, and rise above. And remember, it could always be worse. You could be doing thrusters.*
“There is no such thing as a ‘normal’ family. Every family is different. I don’t know why people even talk that way.” — The redheaded kid above, eight years after this photo was taken.
*Thanks to Eleanor Brown for the inspiration. You can find more phrases like this in her new book “WOD Motivation.”
One day you won’t need to write about her anymore. Or talk about what went wrong.
One day you won’t need to share your pain anymore. It will be small, manageable. And that song on the radio? It won’t make you cry.
One day, you won’t smell her shirt anymore. The scent was almost gone anyway. And it was such a strange, angry act when she shoved that shirt back at you, reeking of her perfume, after it was all over. Like the most hostile kiss ever. One day you will toss that shirt in the dumpster.
One day you will see the good in a brutal ending.
That day is today.
Life heals. You loved, you lost, you lived. This club is large: there are many members, with many the same scars as you. Toll the bell, and move on. Your best love is still ahead of you.
“Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all.“ — Toni Morrison, Beloved
“One writes of scars healed, a loose parallel to the pathology of the skin, but there is no such thing in the life of an individual. There are open wounds, shrunk sometimes to the size of a pin-prick but wounds still.“ — F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender Is the Night
Facebook has chosen to ban me from the Facebook kingdom for 12 hours. Apparently, I need to review the “Community Standards” and think about what I’ve done wrong. I understand. I went to Catholic school. I know what it’s like to sit in the corner and pray for your own soul. May God forgive me. And Mark Zuckerberg.
In order for you to understand the gravity of my situation, and how I ended up on this path of delinquency, allow me first to confess my transgressions that went unpunished, but nonetheless led to this very moment. A bad apple starts as a bad seed. I must tell you and get this off my chest.
It started innocently enough, in 2010. A simple Facebook page for CrossFit, a few photos. What harm could come of that? I know, it’s how all crime starts. One moment you’re posting a hot workout photo, and the next you’re kissing women and divorcing your husband. (Oh wait, that’s another story for another time. Never mind.)
Anyhow, the years went by and it all seemed liked good fun. I’ll admit that I was the one who posted the infamous “Moose Legs” photo in 2011. And subversive photos of dads tossing their children in the air, and dogs hanging out in gyms. I even posted this shocking photo and this one. And (please forgive me) many, many photos of sweaty hot men and women. If we had time, we could review them all. Slowly. Each one. While drinking some bourbon. But I digress. Back to my tale of debauchery.
It was all fun and games and skin until, finally, the CrossFit Facebook page went too far. I didn’t even run the gang anymore, but I still had a key to the clubhouse, and Facebook knew it. One day, the CrossFit Facebook page committed an unforgivable sin that warranted punishment and shaming in front of the community of good, hard-working, time-wasting Facebook people.They linked a story about a mom who sent her child to school with a Paleo lunch and no grains.(Click here if you dare to read it.) They had the unmitigated nerve to question the all powerful Ritz cracker. How un-American. How dangerous. How un-Facebook. People shook their heads and turned away. Every law-abiding citizen of Facebook knew what would happen next.
And, so, we arrive here at this moment. I’m still trying to figure out how a member of the CrossFit gang linking a story about grains violates community standards, but that’s how all criminals are, right? Confused and lonely, left to contemplate their actions. This is how our (Facebook) society works.
Even worse, I’m still having unpure thoughts about the food pyramid. Father, please forgive me, because I may sin again …
The Devil walks into the gym with me, but he never walks out.
How is that?
And when I say Devil, I don’t mean in a religious sense. I’m not that kind of girl, despite the best efforts of my devoutly Catholic parents. They could dress me up but not really get it to stick once I ventured out into the world. (And I might quibble that I am spiritual, but not religious in the traditional sense.)
No, when I say Devil, I mean the dark thoughts in our minds, the dark part of all our souls. The unkind thoughts, the mean words, the black void which we all stumble and fall into at some part of our hour, or day, at different points of our year, and, yes, this happens repeatedly in our lives. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t falter in their thoughts (if not their actions) sometimes. It’s part of being human.
But all I can figure is that the Devil walks into the gym with me, but he dies at some point. Maybe it’s the warm-up that hurts him and it’s the WOD that kills him, but definitely somewhere in the workout, he stops breathing. Maybe along the same time that I feel like I’ve stopped breathing. (Or at least it feels like I’ve stopped breathing, although I know my lungs inflate with air and do their thing with the red blood cells to extract oxygen.) The only thing I know is that, at some point that I can’t name, the devil inside is gone, and I am free of the darkness.
Some linguists maintain that the word exercise is derived from the word exorcise, meaning “to deliver or purify from the influence of an evil spirit or demon.“ Maybe they’re right. I don’t know. But, after you plunge into the dark parts of yourself and rise into the light again, life expands and (to paraphrase the poet Rilke) you can let yourself toll, and be the better for it.
Silent friend of those far away, sense How your breath expands space. Amidst the beams of the gloomy belfry, Let yourself toll. It is a succubus who
Feeds on your sustenance. Enter and exit, in your metamorphoses. If your experiences have been painful And drinking them has been bitter, turn them into wine.
In this night of excess, be Magically empowered, at this crossroads of your feelings, And become the meaning of this strange conjoining.
And if what is of earth forgets you, Say to that earth of silence: I flow. Say to the rushing waters: I am.