About a month-and-a-half ago, I decided to change things. At the time, I wrote about the Rocky movie series and its impact on me. I also wrote about a desire, as a result, partly, of those films and their message, to finish life strong. And even though I just wrote to question the validity of advertising one's efforts of improvement, I'll let the (extremely uninteresting ) cat out of the bag about my own efforts, if only to point our a metaphoric philosophy that hit me this morning.
After the moment referred to in the first link above (in which Rocky's son expresses his admiration for his father, who proves himself old, yet strong) I decided I needed to do something I have never done outside of my sports days: exercise -- in order to be stronger as I approach 50. There are many other things I should do, but walking every morning, at 5:30 AM, is the start I have made.
I like it, for a few reasons. I am enjoying the solitude of my quiet neighborhood and I do feel much changed, physically, in terms of my diminished aches and pains and my increased energy. The only problem is, musician that I am, I am a creature of the night. Always have been. Left to my own choice, I would be awake until four AM, not waking up at five. I can be quoted as having said, many times, that the only thing I absolutely hate about my life is that I have to get up early.
I despise it. So what do I do? I start getting up an hour earlier than I really have to in order to walk. It's all part of "hitting back" at life, Rocky style.
But this morning, when the alarm rang, it was one of those moments of: "No. It cannot possibly be time to get up...I just closed my eyes to sleep." I felt like a stone. The kind of stone that doesn't feel like anything but weight. (What the hell am I talking about?)
Just this once, I thought. Just this once, I'll skip the walk.
It's Thursday as I write. The problem is, getting up early as I have been has not become a "program" for my body the way I thought it would. My eyes are not popping open at 5:30. It's still difficult to muster myself, even after a month and a half of faithful waking. By the end of the week, the effort of waking and walking is monumental. But this morning, as I though of skipping, it occurred to me to think of two things: my boys and wife, first. (I can't be a 100% dad or husband if I can't climb a flight of stairs, let alone have a catch in the yard or walk the beach.) Do it for them.
Second, it occurred to me to take the feeling of wanting to quit and apply it to a metaphor. The week, in terms of getting up and walking, is a microcosmic lifetime: the longer it goes, the harder it gets. I decided to consider that every time I think of quitting: get up, Matarazzo, the way you'll have to get up if you need a hip replaced at 65. Get up at the end of the week and offer it to your future self -- the one who will have to fight getting weaker and whose fight will get tougher, the older he gets; when the end of his lifetime/week approaches.
I got up.
What I had already established is that I would walk, no matter the weather. Steinbeck, in Travels with Charley, in Search of America, refers to his desire not to become, at 58, a "big baby" the way some men do. That has always stuck with me, since I read the book in my early thirties. Why do we hide from rain or cold? Yesterday, my wife hinted that I might want to walk on the treadmill next week because of the extreme and dangerously cold weather that is coming. It seems the weather people are advising people to "stay in." Perfectly reasonable, right? Still...
...Peary could reach the North Pole without Underarmor and high-tech, lab-tested cold weather clothing and I can't walk for half-hour in really cold weather?
The list of things I am being told I shouldn't do seems to be getting longer as I get older and as the nanny-society in which I live gets more fussy: don't shovel snow; don't go out when the air quality is bad; keep out of extreme heat; don't walk in the dark; don't exercise without calling your doctor... (I think of a comedian named Rita Rudner: "Hi, Doctor. This is Rita. I was thinking of bending at the waist...")
Rebelliously doing these things that I am supposed to avoid certainly doesn't earn me the right to tell people my middle name is "Danger" but, just like getting up and walking when it is most difficult is is a small metaphorical statement, so is "braving" a little (or a lot of) rain and cold; a small reminder that I can be tougher than people want me to be.
Sting, the songwriter, has a labyrinth (see above) on one of his properties. He walks it when he can. This is an medieval form of meditation. One can follow the paths or one can do what Sting sometimes says he does: cross over; leap from path to path. That, too, is a source of meditative rebellion; a subtle feeling of going against the prescribed way; crossing boundaries. It must be at least as powerful as "positive thinking," right?
Walking in a driving rain when one is going to go home, take a shower and change clothes for work is not the exactly the act of an adrenaline junkie, but it is a sort of a biting of the thumb at what one is supposed to do. Little bricks in building mental (and, in this case, physical) strength.
Little doses of not giving up and of not cutting corners might well work like ingesting little doses of snake venom. Maybe one builds an immunity to quitting, over time. Maybe one develops resistance to the urge to cheat when Life starts to win the game. Some day it will be the Final Friday. I'll need to get out of bed.
UPDATE: It's Friday -- I walked this morning. 11 degrees Fahrenheit (-12C) with a wind-chill of -15, Fahrenheit (-26C). I survived.