This month, I turned 40. While that number itself doesn’t seem like some monumental change or drastic milestone worthy of a mid-life crisis, I do find myself thinking of a familiar passage from Psalm 90.
“The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.
Well, that’s bad news. At best, I’m at the half-way point… and I’ve never been super fit or strong, so let’s be honest about those odds!
Obviously, this is biblical poetry and not some literal maxim about the extent of human aging. Thanks to modern medicine and the progress of civilization, we have folks who live much longer. Sadly, we all know people who never reach 70 years of age.
I can’t find the source of the quote, but there’s a phrase that comes to mind:
To be clear, I post this without any morbid contemplations of aging or death, without any fear of a life wasted, or opportunities missed. It’s just the thought that comes to mind as I considered my birthday and the significance of turning 40.
Going back to Psalms, the only day that’s guaranteed in life is your last, and there’s no telling when it comes. Like a game of Russian Roulette played with years or decades, sooner or later, that final day arrives, whether you’re 17 or 70 or 107.
I focus on verse 12–its reminder that there is an impending finality, its encouragement that wisdom is found by living in light of that truth. Not that I believe I can number my days, at least not with any fidelity… but I can remember that, however many there may be, that number is ticking down.
This forces a refocusing onto what I believe matters. My faith; my relationships; those I love; the sharing of good times and fellowship; ministering love and kindness and connection; sparking laughter in a heavy heart; simply being present in a hard time.
I’ve spent more time lately planning out tabletop games than writing fiction, because to me and several friends of my family, that connection and shared enjoyment around the table is something magical and exciting. Planning a role-playing game also scratches the creative itch of the writer in me… except I’m writing for an audience of 5 or 8 players instead of blog or book readers.
The pragmatic in me says “Yes, but isn’t this a grand waste of time?” (At least, what little pragmatism hasn’t been defeated by perpetual procrastination and my playful, lazy nature.)
But it’s not about the game; it’s about the people. Shared humanity and my faith both lead me to see lasting value where others might not.
For now, I still need to learn to number my days so I can live wisely. But I know that 80 > 70. So I’m off to the gym to hop on a bike, plot out some interesting stories for the next gaming session, and work on that “by reason of strength” thing.
What do you do to “number your days” or invest in what matters? Let me know in a comment – maybe it’s an idea I could use too!
I’ve got some freedom and free time on my hands while I’m on a business trip to the States.
And I have all sorts of grand plans for how to spend the time. Writing my current project, planning my NaNoWriMo project, catching up on other bloggers’ posts, reading up on a few subjects, playing some piano at the music room in the community center, maintaining a healthy diet instead of the junk food that’s readily available.
One of my goals is 2 hours of aerobic activity each day. Maybe not all-out soul-crushing intensity aerobic activity, but 2 hours of good exercise.
Of course here I sit in my room as the clock ticks away the remains of the day.
I messaged my wife to let her know I’m headed to the gym (where sometimes we can’t chat online), and the message captures something I’ll file away in my Motivation folder:
I don’t know what tasks you have on your to-do list, but one of the lessons I constantly have to re-learn is that none of them age well. If you can do it now, do it. Enjoy looking back on the completed task rather than dreading the task that lies ahead.
So, I’m off to the gym. See you in a couple hours.
Last week I whined about the juice bar in our gym on base selling what I presumed were pizzas at lunch time during my workout.
I’m all for unhealthy food choices as an exercise motivator. We used to celebrate Push For Your Pie Fridays at work, where we’d have a goal of total push-ups performed by the office team, with a pie to share at the end of the day as a reward. (I may re institute this plan in my next job.)
I’m the Spin Instructor who confessed I was only turning the pedals so I could justify a Caramel Macchiato later.
But at the 45:00 point in an hour on the elliptical, the aroma of fresh toasted panini is over the line of what is reasonable!
The political side of me says this is smart and this is capitalism. They have a perfect crowd of hungry customers.
But my rage will not forgive this affront.
It’s the Anti-Thin, the Abomination of Dietary Desolation. It is a wrong thing, a trap for the unwary. And there is nothing but despair within.
This is why I can’t come in here with money.
I want to burn that place to the ground.
I guess I’ll go eat my stinking can of tuna with some steamed green beans instead. And it will taste like ash, as my heart seethes with hatred.
They should know better than to mess with people on a diet.
After Physical Therapy this morning, I hopped over to the base gym to put the rest of my body through some paces.
Having not eaten breakfast, going just before lunch time might have been a mistake.
The gym at some point opened a lunch bar. I walk in to the area with all the exercise equipment and immediately smell all manner of deliciousness. Is that pizza? I heard folks talking about gyros. This on top of the smoothies and shakes they already offered?
Whose side are these people on?!
I guess it’s no worse than me a few years ago as a Spin Instructor, bringing doughnuts to my class as “added motivation.” Maybe this is karma.
Self-control won out over hunger, at least for today.
If you go to a gym or fitness center, do they serve food and tantalize their customers with the aroma? Or do you find yourself tempted when you jog or bike past some restaurant in the local area?
Share a story in a comment. I need some company in my misery. 😀
This morning I forced myself out of bed to honor a commitment.
My swollen Frankenstein foot is healing. I’m attending physical therapy sessions to strengthen it. But my whole body needs exercise. My speed has to improve, and my waistline must shrink so I can pass a fitness test.
Time to move.
The first hundred feet powerwalking feel like running a motor with no oil. Like trying to get my tires out of mud or gravel, and they’re spinning with no traction.
It’s like my old 10-speed after a long winter. I’d pull it out of the garage once the snow melted, and spray WD-40 over the chain and gears. But it still took a few minutes of pedaling to shake everything loose. Grinding metal. Sudden jolts as the chain stuck and snapped loose. Frequent rattling. Then finally, it became reliable.
Even then, when I shifted speeds, the chain would sometimes slip off. I’d have to stop, put it back together, get the chain back on track, and start up again.
Effort is the oil in the engine of greatness.
The Chinese understand this. Their word for “to add oil; lubricate” ( 加油 / jia you, pronouced “jah yo”) has the figurative meaning of increasing effort, pushing harder, stepping on the gas.
With this foot, I’m never going to be a marathon runner. I’ll probably never sprint very fast. I won’t be an awesome basketball player.
But I will regain and surpass the speed I once could achieve on this foot. And I will be able to shoot hoops with my daughter again. And who knows, maybe even I’ll go back to running a fitness test instead of merely walking.
Because I will wake up on cold mornings, spray some “oil” on that ankle, suck it up, and start walking. I will get on the bike, strap my feet in, and turn up the resistance. And when it gets easy, I’ll add another level or two.
What matters isn’t where you’re at now. Where you were before doesn’t matter either. What matters is where you’re headed, and what you’re willing to do to get there.
Writing–really, any creative effort–is similar. I used to say writing was a hobby. But I’ve put in effort and study to improve my craft. I keep doing so. I call myself a writer, because writing is what I do, what I will continue to do.
In fact, I call myself author, because I’ve written numerous short stories and devotionals. I’ve put over a hundred thousand words into a manuscript and I have composed over 150 songs. Maybe soon I will self-publish. With some hope, maybe I will one day have work printed in a publication or published by a professional company.
All I know is that today I will sit down at the keyboard and turn words into sentences, phrases into paragraphs, passages into chapters. Then I’ll edit and revise until it’s the strongest work I can produce today.
And I won’t be content with that, so I’ll make myself do better tomorrow.
I’m not saying I’m great. I’m saying I’m not satisfied.
What commitment to yourself are you going to honor today?
This little gem is one of my workout favorites; it’s like a motivational speech put to song. And it’s just what I need.
(I gather it’s a Calvin Harris song, and maybe there’s some other version of it, but this is the one I like.)
I don’t count myself as a fitness guru, but I blog about it sometimes because the perspective of a fat guy striving to improve at the gym is probably very relatable. And also, it’s part of what’s going on in my life.
Right now, I am just starting getting back to the gym after bone fusion surgery. It’s challenging and painful, but I know it’s part of the healing process.
I get disappointed while hobbling around, or easing myself onto a bike, or gingerly trying out the elliptical. It’s frustrating to watch the fleet-footed runners on the track, gliding as if on the winged feet of Hermes. It’s hard not to try to keep up with the cardio crazies on the machines, pushing and pulling the arms of the elliptical in sprints that seem to last half an hour. And I miss Spinning, with its jumps and hills, isolations and single-leg work.
Part of me wants to look back and think, “I was once a Spin instructor.” I was able to hang with those guys. I could powerwalk a sub 12-minute mile (no easy feat for a fattie!) and own the cardio machines for hours.
I wasn’t gritting my teeth back then, lurching around the track like Frankenstein.
The song reminds me, “It’s not about what you’ve done, it’s about what you’re doin’. It’s all about where you’re going, no matter where you’ve been.”
Part of me looks to the road ahead and sighs, ready to give up. Physical therapy sessions, strenuous exercises, strict dieting, pushing to increase speed just to get back to where I was before… the future looks like hard work.
But the song keeps me in the now. “Let’s go. Let’s make it happen. Make no excuses now, I’m talking here and now. Your time is running out.”
Today is what matters. This workout should be my best. Yesterday’s done, nothing I can do about that. And tomorrow’s problems can wait until then.
What’s your motivational song? When everything inside says “take it easy,” what kicks you into action? Let me know in a comment, so I can go get some more music.
Side note: If you’re in the Omaha area and need some screws drilled into your feet, or any other kind of orthopedic care, Dr. Jon Goldsmith is the guy to see.
If I try to structure my blog posts at all, then Saturday is when I post a “Storyline.” Usually it’s a piece of creative writing or something related to the books bouncing around in my head.
Today, I’m going to share a bit of my story. It’s late, but it’s still Saturday. And I’ve backed off from rigidly following that daily structure in these posts. And it’s my blog so I DO WHAT I WANT!
Specifically, I’m thinking about the upcoming surgery I have scheduled on March 5th, and the recovery process that will follow. And I ask myself if this is really necessary.
For almost twenty years now, I’ve noticed occasional stiffness and pain in my ankle after high-impact activities. It was usually a short ache or a feeling like the joint locked in place and simply needed a good pop. I’d pop the ankle and massage the joint, and move on with my day.
About 2000, I realized it was gradually but steadily getting worse. I soon learned that some of my favorite sports were out of the question. No basketball, no racquetball, no volleyball… I had to quit doing anything that called for pivoting the ankle or making fast movements and changes of direction. I was never very good at any of those sports, so it didn’t feel like a big loss.
Not long after that, the Air Force revamped the fitness program, pushing for more running. Squadron fitness sessions followed suit, and I spent two or three days a week pounding pavement around Kadena. The next day following the run would be full of stiffness, constant aching, and sharp stabbing pains. My ankles would sometimes give out, and I’d stumble. Or the pain would be such that I would slowly work my way down the stairs, eliciting comments and questions from my coworkers.
Imagine you’re walking along and someone raps your ankle with a hammer – not hard enough to break anything or make you fall over, but enough to grab your complete attention for a minute or two until the pain subsides. That’s how it feels most days after I run.
I tried checking with the military doctors, but they were convinced I was not stretching enough. Or I weighed more than I should, and the problem was just the excess weight. They taught me exercises to mitigate the effects of plantar fasciitis, and they suggested diet programs. But the answers boiled down to “Live with it.”
So I did.
I’m not the doctor. I don’t have the medical degree on the wall. I assume they know what they’re talking about.
This went on for a few more years, until the day that I had to crawl around my house rather than put weight on my feet after a simple walk through the Commissary for a grocery shopping trip. My wife got me to re-attack with the doctors, and this time, I got a referral to a podiatrist who ran a CAT scan.
He pulled me into the office and pointed out several noticeable problems with my foot and ankle structure. Then he called attention to the various shadows in the ankle bones, and explained, “That’s advanced degenerative arthritis. It’s much worse than it should be for someone your age.”
Way to make me feel old.
The good news was the doctor had a plan.
The bad news was, so did the Air Force. It took nine months to align dates so that I could get surgery, but I finally got it. We had to work around military education, mission needs, a new office, and squadron deployments. The plan was to get the right foot fixed, then give me time to recover and return to flying duties. After a few months back on flight status, we would get the left knocked out.
I had surgery on my right foot in 2010. The surgeon went in through the right side and carved off some excess bone which was pushing other parts of the ankle out of place. Then he stuck a titanium screw up through my heel to fuse together two of the bones in my ankle.
The recovery process took about five months. By then, increased demands on the squadron got in the way of the original plan. First I needed to fly local sorties, then I was sent on a deployment. By the time I returned, it was time to start preparing to move to a new duty location. I did not want to try to move my family of six across the world while on crutches wearing a cast. Needless to say, the left ankle never got done.
Sadly, the bones didn’t fuse like they were supposed to, so now instead of fixing the left ankle, we get to revisit the right and try to do it “right” (Ha ha). The doc has to take out the old screw, graft in some bone, and put in a new screw. Second time’s the charm, or so we hope. We’re going to help the odds a bit with an infusion of vitamin D and an ultrasonic device meant to stimulate bone growth and recovery.
I know this is going to be a long and difficult process. I have to watch my diet while in a cast, because I will not be able to exercise or be anywhere near as active as I am now. I have to throw myself into physical therapy and personal exercise as soon as that cast comes off, because I will have my next fitness test coming due.
I need a sweet action-movie montage where the hero gets into shape for the big battle against the forces of evil (or the fitness testing cell). I have a story to write in the next few months, but not with words. It’ll be with sets of push-ups and planks, hours of spinning on a cycle or elliptical, weeks of tracking every calorie consumed or burned, every pound gained or lost. It’ll also be dealing with the looks or unspoken judgments of those who don’t know all the details – accepting that some people will assume instead of ask, condemn instead of encourage.
I know I can write this story, because I did it three years ago.
But I’m not looking forward to it.
Stories resonate so well because everyone has one of their own. There’s a drama going on in every life that you and I may not be privy to. It’s easy to jump to a conclusion, but just like any good book, if you do that, you miss the most important details.
The movie montage seems so nice because it shortens all the hours of suck into a few minutes of hard work, set to a driving beat. Of course, life has no such short-cuts, and achievements do not come so easily.
I know I’m not the only one who has a similar story of long, hard work to recover from injury or achieve a difficult goal. What kept you going when it would have been easy to quit? What did you find inspired you to push harder, work longer, and succeed?
Everyone has a story, and I’d love to hear yours.
The home of David M. Williamson, writer of fantasy, sci-fi, short stories, and cultural rants.