The Valiant Human Body

Last weekend, I was driving out of downtown Austin after one of my older daughter's acoustic brunch gigs on a Sunday afternoon when I stopped to let some pedestrians cross the road. Two women, dressed for church, one of whom was significantly overweight --more than one hundred pounds overweight. I watched her struggle to walk across the road, perched on these high heels, and I don't know...I was just filled with compassion for her and awed by how valiantly her body was trying to do what she'd asked of it. Because the body's all, like, "We can do this.  We can move this body across the street if that's what you're asking, and for bonus points, we're going to do it balanced on tiny stilts. We've got this."

Understand me: as a woman who battled with her weight for a long time (decades,) I was not sitting in judgment. We're all on our own paths and at different places on them. We all have our coping mechanisms for dealing with this world, we all have addictions, and we all make choices that are not aligned with our best interests. And maybe that woman has NONE of those issues. Maybe she just has a sluggish metabolism and a physical condition that prevents her from taking the weight off.  It happens. No judgment from me.

Because I wasn't even feeling judgmental. What I was feeling was admiration for how hard her body was trying to do its job, despite its circumstances. I thought back to my own situation when I logged hundreds of miles as a runner, despite the fact that my foot couldn't bend because of the abnormal bone configuration in it. My body was all, like, "Well, okay then.  Running it is.  Off we go."

Until, you know, we couldn't go anymore. Until I'd worn away so much bone that I couldn't even walk on that foot. And then after the reconstructive surgery when my body had to raise its voice to shout at me that something was really, really WRONG, in order for me to hear it. Because that's what pain is --a signal that something is wrong. That's what illness IS. That's what bunions ARE. All of it, messages from our bodies that something needs some attention, needs addressing, needs some freaking compassion.

It's so hard for us, though, to extend that compassion to ourselves.  When the doctor first x-rayed my foot, he said that I had broken it four or five times. I never noticed. I mean, I remember feeling some annoying pain that maybe slowed me down for a couple of days, but I never went to the doctor or, God forbid, rested. I just expected my body to keep going, broken or not, because I HAD THINGS TO DO. Things that seemed more important than being kind to my poor body, my poor SELF.

Plus, it gets all messed up with our brains sending messages about what kindness looks like when we are being kind to ourselves.  Raise your hand if you've ever thought, "I deserve this cookie because of what I just went through at the DMV." "I'm going to have a margarita the size of Brazil now that I'm done with finals." "I deserve this entire cheesecake because I just ran a marathon."  So, we get all tied up in what we think we deserve, without thinking about what would really be kind to our bodies. We don't listen, most of us, to what our bodies really NEED.  We aren't really interested in what would REALLY reward ourselves. Rest, healthy green vegetables, cool clean water --that's not sexy. That doesn't feel like a reward! I used to take my high-school final exams fueled by raw cookie dough--because nothing says "mental clarity and balance" like a stressed-out, sleep-deprived teenager strung out on massive amounts of refined sugar. I thought I deserved to eat something totally decadent as a reward for withstanding all that stress.  It would have been so much kinder to fuel up with something healthy.

I'm trying to break this cycle, and I think I've made a lot of progress. I've learned to set aside the mind's craving for highly-sugared desserts and excessive amounts of chocolate, in order to check in with my body about what it's really hungry for. I'm not always consistent in this, but it's more of a default state of being than it ever was. It feels right to me.  It feels kind.

Also, I'm becoming more aware of what I ask my body to do on a daily basis, and how I make that either easier or harder. I'm starting to admire my body for it's endless capacity to heal and evolve, and for how valiantly it tries to do what I ask of it.

I wonder what it would look like if we all started celebrating all the stuff the body does for us-- that it does without complaining, and in high heels even? I wonder what our choices would look like if we started applying a little compassion to our aches and pains, instead of getting annoyed and pushing through? If you saw a kid struggling to carry one hundred pounds across a street, what would you do? If you saw a neighbor limping along the sidewalk, what would you say?  If your sister started every day hungover and suffering, what would you want to tell her?

Why is it so much easier to extend compassion to other people, and so hard to feel it for our own valiant selves?


Carrie said…
My mom was an amazing, brilliant woman...and was also quite overweight. When I looked at her, I saw years of staying home with small children, working on bookkeeping for the family business nightly til 2 or 3 am, and taking my grandmother to chemo and countless appointments from the time I was 6 until I was in college. She was the Girl Scout leader, Cub Scout leader, Sunday school teacher, choir teacher, you name it. Then she went back to teaching and taught seniors about Shakespeare and British Lit about 15 more years. She had been to most of Europe, the Holy Land, Japan, and lived in Guam for a while. She did it all. Amazing, crazy-smart person who got in the condition she was in because she was caring for others.

And in the end, what probably stung me the most was the number of medical professionals who treated her like she must be an idiot simply based on her size. There was tone, particularly from a few nurses. Others were the kindest, sweetest, people you can imagine.

Compassion is important--we have no idea what that person has gone through or who the person really IS. Well said.
Lane said…
Amen! To you and to Carrie.
tanita✿davis said…
I got my ...unmotivated backside out of bed this morning and got back on my treadmill, after a few days of "I deserve to sleep in."

Sometimes I do: sometimes I really need the rest. But, I'm grateful to have taken those first steps - back in the "saddle" as it were, because this is the gift I give to myself - even if it's a gift that comes slick with sweat and really manky, damp leggings.

I will think on this all day, as I watch myself move.
Ei said…
You know what I love about you, Barb? While always striving to be kind, generous and loving, you are never EASY. And I don't mean that in a crude way. You really strive to rise to the best of every part of yourself. It's instructional.
Amen to what Eileen said. I am so grateful that you are who you are and that you WRITE IT ALL DOWN for us. You are a most powerful person through your vulnerability and empathy.I hang out for each post because they are such gems. You are instructional and inspirational.
Lynn said…
Beautifully stated. I love what Carrie said about her mom, too. I have spent the past year learning how to say No. Thank. You.
Annabanana said…
You put into words this feeling of 'deserve' and 'reward' in such a new way that it reached my heart and brought me to tears. YES!!! this is how I need to honor my body, and the true reward is listening to IT not my MIND. Thank you sweet Barb!
Miri said…
Today I had a long day -- three girls to deliver and pick up to and from three separate rehearsals and also two preschool children to keep basically happy along the way and then off to night shift bookkeeping work for my husband's business. I arrived at his office at 7 p.m. feeling TERRIBLE but delivering him a coffee drink. He inquired why I hadn't brought myself a drink and I replied that my tummy was upset from the stress of the day. Schedule pressure is my kryptonite. Anyway at that moment I realized I had eaten nothing since 7 a.m. when I had a protein bar. Twelve hours on a protein bar and lots of coffee. Very sad. Your post is provoking.
Miri said…
PS My sweet husband dropped everything to feed me pad Thai. Much better.