The Body Electric

The Body Electric: Day Twenty-Nine

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We run in the dark:

Just me and T, our feet slapping the wet pavement.

We run through quiet streets still aglow with holiday lights.  Bright orbs as big as pumpkins bob from the trees — a neighborhood tradition — and as they sway gently in the six-o’clock dark, their reflections shimmer in the puddles.

And my body hurts, but suddenly it occurs to me that I feel completely and totally alive.

*

It seems fitting, to be writing about running today.  When I first began this little series, some twenty-nine days ago, I was writing about running, then, too.  And now, the circle is beginning to close.

And I’m tired.

As I round the last bend toward the hill I call home, I’m tired.

I’m tired of December and its rush of parties and events and food and drink.

I’m tired of writing.

And running.

And a lot of other things too big to put into such a small post.

But this is the kind of exhaustion that feels good, somehow, if only because it proves, in its way, that I’m living.

And I don’t question the feeling.

*

I slow to a walk as I make my way up the hill to my house.  In the waterglimmer, the little bicycle-spoke lights I’ve laced into my running shoes glow in the dark:

Left foot blue.

Right foot red.

Blue.

Red.

Blue.

Red.

My footsteps are slow now.  My hair is a mess, my breaths ragged, but that’s okay.  I accept the messiness as something beautiful in and of itself.  

I accept the tiredness as something beautiful, in and of itself.

I accept my aging body as something beautiful, in and of itself.

I accept … myself.

*

I go home and I take a hot shower.

In my little writing room, I sit down and write a messy blog post, and I accept that messiness, too.

I unlace the bicycle-spoke lights from my sneakers and switch them on in my palm.

Their glow is so small, but still:  I’m switching on lights in the dark…

And for today, that’s enough. ❤

 

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The Body Electric

The Body Electric: Day One

Yesterday.  Early evening.

I slip into my running shoes and sit down on the kitchen floor by the back door, in front of the rainsplashed full-length mirror.  

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Slowly, I slide into a stretch, feeling all the little muscles in my legs resisting until, after a minute or so, they loosen all at once.  Whatever was taut suddenly feels soft and pliant, and I can bend my torso and rest my face comfortably on my knees.

I’ve always loved this quiet place before a run.  I loved it years ago when I was competing, and I love it now, when I run only for myself.  These days, it’s like a quiet agreement between myself and my body:  a promise that I will listen to it and be gentle with it.  That I will challenge it, and enjoy it, but not abuse it.

I realize only now, as I’m typing the words, that this is the kind of silent agreement that lovers make.

And that seems right to me.

*

Can I tell you something that’s honest?  The world I grew up in didn’t teach me to think very highly of my body.

I’ve spoken briefly, now and again, about the fact that I was educated and churched in the conservative Christian milieu.  I’m (deeply) grateful for some of the things I learned in that place:  to love my enemies.  To give generously.  To be open to ideas that can’t always be pinned down into clear-cut facts.

But there are other things I learned there — hurtful ideas I’m still trying to shake out of my skull.  And I count my thoughts about my body among them.

*

Outside, the dusk deepens to dark, and it rains.

At first I’m cold, but less than a half-mile into my run, my body warms.  The group I’m running with strings out along the trail, their headlamps bobbing in the black, and after cutting through about half the pack, I find my place, and I let my stride settle into a steady length that matches my breathing.

I splash through puddles and smile:  this feels good today.  Just right.

*

I’ve had a lot of time, since my recovery from my eating disorder  more than a decade ago, to think about how my body relates to my soul.  What role the muscles and the sinews, the flesh and bone might play in the life of the spirit that lives beneath.

As I run, I think about the old things I was taught — things I’m shedding now like a husk of dry skin.

I think about the people who taught me that the body was unholy:  that it was constantly at war with the goodness my spirit:  

It hungered.

It lusted.

It seduced.

And I suppose these people weren’t entirely wrong… But they weren’t entirely right, either.  Because while my body is full of longings that aren’t good for me, it’s full of longings that are beautiful, too.

I run a little faster, and more psalms than I can count rush through my head like a river:  King David’s words about a mouth that speaks poetry and praise.  About eyes that see the Glory.  

And I think:  this, too, is truth.

*

I round the halfway mark and run under the bridge, then uphill, my strides smaller and more painful now.  I am listening, over the sound of my breaths, for the sound of my heart:  the hammer of it in my ears, my throat.  

When I am certain that it’s steady, I push forward a little harder:  under the second bridge and out into the lonelier dark.

The last mile is always the hardest.

*

I am learning:  little by little, I am learning.

I feel the drops of rain prick the skin of my face, feel my wet hair slap my shoulders, and I think:  the body is not a cage — oh, no.  It’s not a prison I have to endure until some heavenly homecoming.

If anything, it’s a scaffold:  a temporary structure I am using to build something stronger and more lasting within.

I run harder into the rain, and I think about the skyscraper of my spirit — fragile but needle-sharp, rising into cloud.  I think about the lacy network of brittle bone that contains it, protects it, allows me to do the work of beautifying it.

And believe me:  I can feel that brittleness.  With each footstep, I feel my old stress fractures.  Shinsplints.  The frail state of my 34-year-old knees.

But also, I feel the finish, coming.

I feel the rain on my face.

I feel the breath in my lungs.

I feel my spirit expanding to fill all of myself.

And it’s good.

*

I promised you that tonight I’d reveal a new project with you, and here it is:  for the next thirty days, I’m going to find a way to enjoy my body every day, and then I’m going to share it with you.

Because the body hasn’t always meant joy for me, and these days, I’d like that to change.

I may snap a shot of my hike in the woods, or write two-hundred words about a run.  I might tell you what it feels like to cup my palms around a cup of hot tea on a cold night, or show you what it means to sit still under a cloudless sky and feel the sun on my closed eyelids.

Either way, I want to spend this December — a season that is so often about bodily overindulgence followed by self-loathing — using my body a little differently.

I plan to take a healthier kind of pleasure in it, in this brief little moment when it’s mine to enjoy, and chronicle that pleasure every day.  

Here’s my first photo:

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See you tomorrow. ❤

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The Body Electric

When I am running in the dark, in a river of light …

Two days ago, for the first time in a long time, I ran.

*

There’s a little event held every Tuesday in Roanoke called the Pub Run.  It begins at Wasena City Tap Room and loops through the greenway in either a three-mile or five-mile course.

It felt strange, and also comforting, to run in such a large group.  Everyone there wore a glow bracelet, a headlamp or a flashing light, so that as the crowd strung out along the trail in the six o’clock dark — panting and glowing and sparkling — I felt suddenly like I was part of a slow-wheeling galaxy.

A river full of bobbing orbs of light.

*

It had been months since the last time I ran, and many years since I raced competitively, and I’ll tell you:  I felt every one of those lazy days:

Heartbeat throbbing in my skull.

The crash of each footstep reverberating up through fragile tibia and fibula.

After a mile and a half, everything cried out at once:

Pain.

Pain.

Pain.

And I could have silenced all those voices like flipping a switch — could have plunged them into oblivion, and put another mile or two behind me without feeling a thing.

But.

*

Years ago, I learned the art of slipping out of my body when it pained me — a single step sideways into numbness.

Athletes learn this trick in moderation, and save it for important moments.  They need to hear their bodies on a day-to-day basis… need to know which muscles are fraying and ready to snap.  And so for them, the decision to listen to pain or to ignore it is a constant negotiation between the body and the will.  A dance.

But there are other people who ignore their body’s suffering for so long that it ceases to cry out at all.

The body and soul live together, but they don’t speak, like that long-married couple you know who drift past each other in the hallway on their ways to separate bedrooms, exchanging only the most rudimentary words, the briefest glances.

I think you know what I mean.

*

And yet after all this time, I am learning:  if you want to feel the pleasure, you must also feel the pain.

*

As I passed the halfway mark on Tuesday’s run, I felt long bands of pain reach around my torso and clench tight.

I ran slower, trying to keep my spine straight, my head up, but the pain worsened.  It yanked one shoulder downward so that I cringed into a crooked shuffle.

And right then, I could have flipped that old switch:  shaken myself loose from the pain and surged forward into the dark.

But I didn’t.

I decided then and there that if my Body and Soul are going to live together, then they might as well be intimate.  They ought to feel each other’s joys … and also each other’s suffering.

And so I let the pain come.

I slowed.

The river of blinking lights parted and rushed around me.

I let myself be carried along.

*

A little while later, I crossed the finish line at a walk.

There was a hitch in my stride and a slow burn in my calves.  The old stress fractures in my legs ached.  Still — I felt whole and at home in myself, in a way I haven’t in years.

And it was good.

*

Oh, God … It was good.

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*

Next week, I begin again. ❤

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