Commentary: Dear Facebook friend: Thank you, sincerely, for adding me to your group, “Between A Walk & A Hard Pace.” Sometimes people are annoyed when friends add them to groups without asking, but I appreciate your impulse to include me in a positive and supportive environment for people who are on “weight loss journeys.” The dedication and discipline required to transform one’s body rouses my respect and admiration. You have my full support, and so do all the people in the group who are strangers to me.
To be honest, a certain vanity I am used to ignoring gave me a kick when I saw your invitation. Before I became the slightly pear-shaped specimen of middle aged urbanity you see today, in my lithe youth I worried when society described me as “skinny” and “underweight” until a doctor said, “Your body wants to be this weight. Just keep eating right, pass on the drugs, and do physical work.” He wasn’t insistent on exercise as a pastime – just daily physical activity. Long walks, yard work, getting outdoors, playing games, maybe some galloping with a doggy companion or dallying in the woods with a comely swain. I take great delight in this doctrine of health.
What I refer to here is “health,” from the Old English “hælþ,” meaning to be whole. This includes physical health but also happiness, a sense of acceptance of oneself, of being hale and hearty. This fulfillment is possible in bodies that are long and short, round or narrow, heavy or light.
This is not to diminish the aspirations and the discipline of those who embark on a transformation of their bodies. Down the road at Gabe’s Fitness, I have met people focused solely on their fitness goals, and people for whom fitness goals are a map they use on a humane journey. Those were the people who greeted me when, one spring, I considered allocating some time for the gym. They impressed me with their curiosity and exuberance for being physically alive, kindly sorting me out and then going back to lifting minivans.
My fitness goal is to be fully human, in body and mind; to be, as Whitman wrote, “turbulent, fleshy, sensual, eating, drinking, and breeding,” for “Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch, or am touch’d from.” In my human gymnasium and at my age, I now pay closer attention to what I eat, and there are hours of exercise to be had taming the yard, scrubbing the tub, hoisting my children, conducting as much business as possible on foot, and chasing my wife around the couch. Besides these, I ground each day with some Zen meditation, and – whenever my schedule permits – with long, aimless walks.
Aimless walks are odd in a goal-oriented society, and even some who walk regularly do so with an eye on their Fitbit, counting their steps or measuring their heart rate. To me, this is exercising, but not walking. From advertising to professional training to recreational goal-setting, our lives are packed with cultivation and not enough wilderness. I agree with Thoreau when he wrote, “I would not have every man nor every part of a man cultivated, any more than I would have every acre of earth cultivated: part will be tillage, but the greater part will be meadow and forest.”
Therefore, friend, I feel somewhat out of place in your Facebook group; but I will aimlessly hike these gorgeous Florida mountains with you any time.
Algernon D’Ammassa writes the Desert Sage column for the Deming Headlight and Sun News papers. Share your thoughts at email@example.com.