It’s 11:30 p.m. and I literally collapse on the living room couch after yet another hectic day of life being life. What I feel is beyond physical exhaustion. I am like a powerful smart phone that woke up charged at 100 percent, only to end the day down to that one last miserable bar of energy. Barely enough to get me from the couch to bed.
My life these days is non stop frenetic forward motion from 6:00 a.m. until that moment when I hit the couch. Between personal life and work, somehow every minute of my day seems accounted for. Every minute seems pre-booked for me on behalf of someone else, to undertake some task without which the universe will implode. Even my deepest passion, like writing, ultimately boils down to sensible, pragmatic tasks that need to be accomplished.
I am not complaining. This is what a full, productive life is all about. There is a sweet sense of accomplishment when the day winds down, even if there are no new major conquests. Life is about tiny repetitive achievements. Getting the kid out of the house and on the school bus, on paper, sounds like just another mundane life task. It shouldn’t feel so good. But I recognize that in the larger scheme of things, the daily routine we as parents lay down for our kids provides the incremental layers of a solid foundation. Going to school everyday adds up to an education.
As I replay the footage of my day in my mind, I pat myself on the back for fulfilling my daily duties to my children, my wife, my clients, my colleagues, my friends, my readers, my parents, my world really. To the best of my knowledge, at least for today, I didn’t disappoint or fail anyone. I glance at my wife, and she too is having her “hitting the couch moment.” She’s had no less of a grinding day than I did. We’re a great team, and we both know it.
I am about to disengage mentally and do something mindless for the rest of the evening, but it hits me: I’ve given many pieces of myself to the world today, but there is one person who’s been pushed back to the lowest priority. Me. Or my body. As hectic as my day is, much of what I do is accomplished sitting down. Work, writing, meetings, business lunches, business coffees, driving from one place to the other. And whatever does require physical exertion is usually the annoying, empty type that does little more than frustrate me. Like walking to the parking meter. It’s the bane of the modern professional. When I am not so incredibly busy, I go to the gym at least four times a week during the day. But when it’s this chaotic, there just aren’t enough hours during the day, and my gym hours are the first to be sacrificed.
It’s a full moon outside and there’s a fresh breeze in the air coming through the window. I could go outside for a run, I tell myself.
A run? Am I out of my bleeping mind?
A run indeed. By doing so, I would fulfill my last obligation for the day. My obligation to myself to stay healthy, not just in mind and spirit, but physically. The mere mention of the word obligation is already panning out to be a major turn off. And with turn offs comes doubt. That voice in my head when I am most vulnerable resurfaces. The last thing you need is to get up, get dressed to run on the street like an idiot. Watch some television, have a glass of wine, or, most sensibly, take a hot shower and sleep.
It’s a tug of war in my mind between the reality of my physical state, and my consciousness. Inevitably, I reach that critical moment when I need to make a decision.
I am going for a run dammit!
Even with my favorite music blasting in my ear, the smell of night blooming jasmines nourishing my soul, and the soothing cool breeze against my skin, I am not looking forward to running. It’s not too late, the voice reminds me. You could just bail out, or even just go for a nice leisurely walk. Or play some Wii. That’s sort of like exercising, right?
Against all odds, I plunge head first.
Every part of my body hurls abusive insults at me for agreeing to this charade. My feet ache and my knees are like a rickety tin man. I get distracted by the music, the full moon, the fact that there are other people on the street, which cold mean I am not the only lunatic in this world.
I start singing along, and by the time the next song starts, I notice the initial pain of revving up the cold, dry machine has slightly subsided. I realize I can probably stick it out for a few more songs, but then that’s it, I am going back home.
A few songs later, something odd has happened. Nothing is hurting anymore, and my heart and lungs are operating in sync and cooperating fully with my feet, gravity, wind resistance, and whatever surface I am on. What the hell, five more songs. Or seven. Or something. Or something indeed. Before I know it, that one last bar of energy that I thought would only get me to the toilet to floss and brush my teeth has exploded and surged to a phenomenal peak. I am more energized and powerful now than I was early in the morning after my coffee, right before my hairy day started.
I am running on a bicycle path alongside a main thoroughfare in Rome. I am the only jogger, but not the only one out. I am sharing the road with late-night hookers, their pimps, Bangladeshi windscreen cleaners and newspaper vendors, and circus performers whose entire act lasts while the traffic light is red. None of these people faze me as much as the “regular” people walking their horse-sized dogs at this time of the night. They look like no one you ever see when the sun is up. There is a whole cast of characters out when the rest of us are at home getting ready to sleep. Maybe the the world is divided into shifts? Vampires!, my brain digresses…
I notice the Bangladeshi vendors chitchatting with the hookers, sipping on cans of Fanta. There’s an odd, but not inexplicable camaraderie between them. They share this corner of the street. For all intents and purposes, this is their “office.” What on earth could a Bangladeshi migrant be talking about to an Eastern European sex worker? My mind drifts left, right and center. I start weaving story ideas. She’s not a hooker, but a paid assassin. He’s not a Bangladeshi migrant making ends meet, but an ISIS recruiter. She’s about to pop some lead in his skull. You get the picture.
I’ve been running nonstop for more than half an hour. Something has happened to me. Serious runners call it endorphins. I just call it pleasure. What started out as daunting chore to fulfill an obligation has now transformed into the best part of my day. I am no longer just caught in sluggish comfort, but an animal sprinting on the back of mother earth. Isn’t that how we all started? Running across the Savannah, chasing after a beast for food, or running away from one, trying to avoid becoming food. I can’t help but admire the power of the human body and the intricacy of its design. My brain feels like a seasoned pilot, controlling and navigating a complex, well designed marvel of design. But make no mistake, my mind is in charge, not my body. My mind took an executive decision and got us out on the street, acting against the very compelling inertia of the body to remain comfortable, to rest. I smile to my devious self and acknowledge I was only able to get from the couch to the street through a series of harmless acts of self-deception.The journey from my comfortable couch to the street is a microcosm of life: Many of our biggest obstacles and challenges are not those the world throws at us, but those we manufacture for ourselves.
For a brief period, it feels like I can keep running forever. That’s intoxicating. Liberating.
I accelerate, still able to breathe comfortably, feeling every muscle contracting. I finally stop and head back home, because its time, not because I couldn’t keep going.
I am back home lying in bed about to fall asleep. But it’s an honorable sleep, on my terms, not the sort where you collapse because you are wiped out.
Before I shut my eyes closed, I smile one last time.
The real reason I feel so energized and accomplished is not because I exercised my body, but because I exercised my will power. And that’s the most important muscle of all.