Work and Strength

[image: the fruits of my early-morning labor one winter, a clear path to walk through a snowy world]

I have never been the sporty type. I tried pee-wee tennis once. I enjoyed it to a degree, but my hand-eye coordination is minimal. In elementary school I nodded solemnly and told my P.E. teacher that I was “recovering from surgery” for WEEKS after my tonsil surgery and managed to earn myself the right to walk around the track instead of run. I once, on the first try, shot a 3 point basketball goal and that remains the highlight of my athletic abilities. In 9th grade when we were all required to take physical education and the final exam was to run a mile non-stop, I used my hard-earned right-to-exempt an exam on that one and willing pondered the great lessons of science and math and literature that year instead.

I am not a fan of exercise. The only thing I enjoy doing that could be considered exercise is swimming laps back and forth, back and forth.  I imagine that if running didn’t make me want to die, I’d enjoy it too for much the same reason I enjoy swimming – the solitary rhythmic nature of it all.

I had a gym membership and a personal trainer for a while, and I enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment from that for a bit, but I quickly tired of the treadmills and weight machines. What I most loved about those trips to the gym were the walks to the gym. I walked out my front door and 30 minutes later I was somewhere else. What a productive use of movement!

Sometime in my life I discovered that while I am not a fan of standard exercise, I love things that allow me to be physically involved. More than once I’ve woken up before dawn on snowy mornings and grabbed a shovel so that I could clear the path on the sidewalk and drive-way in the crisp, quiet morning.

There is something beautiful in seeing the result of your body’s muscles and bones working together to accomplish a job.

One of my current jobs is in the land of retail – where it feels that I walk miles each day back and forth from the stock room – lifting heavy boxes from the floor, from high on the stock room shelves. Climbing ladders. Kneeling. Bending. Stretching. It is a very physical job. At this transition time in my life post-grad-school, I find myself grateful for such a kinesthetic job – a job that keeps me grounded and connected as I recognize that this body is strong and useful and powerful. The physicality of it is exhausting, but still fulfilling. Here is what this body can do. It can lift and climb and carry.

I am always slightly taken aback when people are shocked that I am strong.

I have carried my body upright, climbed steps and mountains, for an entire lifetime. And this body has always been big.

Surely all that has earned me muscles by anyone’s logic. I think part of my strength is the sheer determination that I can do it. Yet, I can’t always do it. I once stopped half-way up the curling stairs of lighthouse – pausing at a window before heading back down and waiting on the rest of the group who had journeyed all the way to the top. That is what this body can do too, and it deserves my respect and my attention to stop when I’ve reached my limit.

Sometimes at night, if my legs are especially achy, I’ll stretch a leg up as I lie in bed, point my toes towards the ceiling, and feel the way the soft flesh of my calves gives way to hard muscle. I remind myself of my strength in a world that tells me I am weak and lazy.

I’ll push myself, because that’s who I am, but pushing past my body screaming that it is at its limit is only a move to please the powers that tell me what my body should look like, that tell me what my body should do to be acceptable. That is not a way to live.

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