Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Out in the Country

(Photos by Mars - please click on the photos to enlarge them)

"When does it get easier?"

It was locker room chatter -- that meaningless banter that goes on between guys to fill the time and clothe the awkwardness that precedes and follows the workout itself. The rhetorical questioner was younger than me. We had established on other days that he still had twenty plus years to retirement while I had just crossed the Medicare border. He also lagged behind me in the number of years he had been exercising -- being a five-year health club member while I have been at it pretty much every day for more than twenty.

"It doesn't. The idea is to keep it from getting harder." I replied almost before his query was finished.

I have probably had this exact same "conversation" previously -- perhaps even several times before. I say that because the words flowed out of my mouth with absolutely no apparent conscious input from my brain - which was off somewhere else trying to remember what I though was a pertinent quote from Alice in Wonderland.

"A slow sort of country!' said the Queen. 'Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"

But I was also thinking that over time it actually had become less difficult. And more importantly it had come to be much easier to navigate the landscape of the rest of my life -- where the running really counted.

Mars and I got into the exercise game twenty-plus years ago. At that time the world -- e.g. yard and house maintenance and improvement, family activities and work -- seemed to be causing me to go faster and work harder than I was able to without feeling tired most of the time. On Saturday night I was barely able to understand what was happening on "COPS!" -- never mind staying up late enough to watch it.

The world was running faster than we were, so we decided to begin jogging and see if we could catch up with it. We gradually worked our way up to three miles a day until the company for whom Mars and I both worked opened the corporate health club to which we both still belong.
Mars had become an even more enthusiastic exerciser -- but less of a fan of jogging. She immediately stopped and switched to kinder/gentler cardio activities that she later combined with weight training and some yoga.

I however, feeling that I was still running behind, continued for several more years. Then I too gradually shifted to a regimen of lower-impact cardio, strength training, and yoga. And I found that not only could I function on Saturday nights, but I could now also comprehend the meaning of entire written paragraphs in only a single reading -- even after sundown.

Then we retired and life became "six Saturdays and a Sunday" -- the health club being closed on the Sabbath. And on each of the "Saturday" nights I can now actually read and understand complete chapters of books without immediately falling asleep -- even in a horizontal position.

Our outside world has slowed down a little -- but only as much as we allow it to. And we both are more aware of doing things in our inside world (e.g. "the club") that allow us to keep that speed going - something that at our gym they call "functional fitness, training your body to handle real-life situations."

I didn't actually recall the entire Alice in Wonderland quote time during my locker room conversation but I must have remembered the gist of it since I ended that talk with some more words that seemed to come unbidden from my mouth:

Sometimes a treadmill
Is more than just a machine.
It's a metaphor.

Later, at home, I found the complete Alice quote on the Internet. And, in that free-associating mental state that the World Wide Web engenders the words "A slow sort of country!" led my mind to the recent Coen brothers film/Cormac McCarthy novel which takes its title from a poem by William Butler Yeats:

"That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
- Those dying generations - at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect."

Mars and I have hiked several times in the West Texas desert that forms the setting for the novel/film - and we would like to do it again. It is indeed not a country for old men (or women). Unless, of course, they keep themselves functionally fit.

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