My friend Keith Snyder, a music geek, recently tweeted a line from Brian Eno: "Analog synthesizers break in interesting ways. Digital synthesizers just break." Keith has made that line into a prayer:
May I continue to break in interesting ways.
That may be a strange place to start talking about a beautiful change, but stick with me.
I hit two personal milestones recently. First, I ran a 10K race. That was big for me. Until a year ago I had never run for more than a few minutes at a time. Ever. I was the smart one, you see, and the musical one, but never the athletic one. My body was the thing that carried my brain around. Aside from the occasional mountain hike while on vacation, and an intermittent practice of walking to stay in basic shape, I was a sedentary type.
But at 40, with a father who dropped dead from cardiac stuff at age 56, getting in better shape felt non-negotiable---the reasonable thing to do from an actuarial standpoint. That's how the running started. Of course, it's become something deeper than that.
Before I ran the 10K (6.2 miles for the metrically challenged), I'd never run farther than 5 miles in training. When I reached mile 5 at the race, I thought, This is as far as I've ever gone. Beyond this point, it's all new. That's a wonderful thing.
Indeed, my whole life feels that way in this, my fifth decade. I'm not a rookie in ministry anymore; I'm not the mother of little ones anymore; as of this fall I will be a published writer. Lauren Winner talks in her latest book about reinventing oneself every ten years. That's happening, through my own volition and beyond it.
Among other things, running for me means embracing a blessed mediocrity. I'm not a fast runner; Robert has described my gait as "a bit loping." I've never experienced a runner's high. I like races because the crowd and the music provide a boost that my body chemistry seems unwilling to muster. I love the feeling of having run, but running itself is frequently a chore. At last month's race, I was second to last in my age group, and way down in the bottom third overall.
Yet I do it. And there's something liberating about doing something badly by most objective standards. I'm a perfectionist, you know. I like setting a goal and reaching for the top, and if I'm not good at something, eh...easy come, easy go. With so many luscious possibilities in this life, more than I could ever undertake, such a standard may not be the best way to discern what's mine to do, but it's what works.
Or has worked in the past. Something in me had to "break in an interesting way" for me to start running---to do this thing that's never been part of my self-understanding. Something shattered in my brittle, do-it-well-or-don't-do-it exoskeleton.
And thank heaven it did. I'm healthier than I've ever been, in more ways than one.
I now ask myself: What else could I do badly for the sheer satisfaction of it?
The second health-related milestone happened a few days ago. I hit my weight-loss goal of 40 pounds.
I'm no numerologist, but there is significance in the numbers. James weighs about 40 pounds, so every time I pick up his stocky four-year-old frame I think to myself, This is the weight I carried around all the time nine months ago. It seems fitting somehow: in another year, James will be in kindergarten. There are no babies or toddlers in my house anymore. It feels right that as I move into another phase as a mother, my body would look different.
Also, it took me nine months to lose the weight. Is it an exaggeration to say that a new person has been born? Perhaps. But as with the running, something in me had to break in order for this change to occur. Caring for myself---I mean really caring, not punishing myself until I shrink down into some "acceptable" size---requires a certain vulnerability. I can do all the right things, as many people do, but there will always be aspects of our health that are beyond our control. Life is a genetic and environmental crap shoot. That's an uncomfortable truth to face. Denial feels easier sometimes.
Another thing that had to break: a rigid expectation of what I would look like as a 40 year old with a normal BMI.
Hint: it's not like a 20 year old.
Don't get me wrong, I look different than I did when I was a new mother, with all my ample post-pregnancy curves. But as I've left 40 pounds behind on so many jogging trails and city streets, I've been amazed at the parts of me that haven't been magically transformed. There is still...a thickness. A settledness. This body will never be that of a college student. Or a newlywed. Or a non-mother. As that great philosopher Indiana Jones says, "It's not the years...it's the mileage."
And I'm grateful for every one of those miles.