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ROBUSTNESS

I could run barefoot for miles. I could climb stairs three at a time and leap over rock walls with no care to where I’d land. I climbed trees and did flip dismounts from their low hanging branches, and could walk on my hands.

I was skinny but strong; wiry but robust. Like a fast-moving stream being powered by the melting snow, every spring I couldn’t wait to run again. I almost always ran barefoot, even sometimes when I ran cross country during my junior year of high school.

I remember one meet, in particular, that was a pretty big deal for me. I had been making steady progress throughout the season, increasing my training runs from three to four to six and at times eight miles at a whack. This particular meet was going to take place very close to where we lived, so I had asked both my parents to try and be there to cheer me on. In all my years of taking part in any kind of organized sports (which to be fair only included basketball in elementary school and cross country that year in high school) it would have been a first.

“Robustness is not an option in most human lives, to choose its opposite is to become invisible.” – David Whyte Consolations

I already felt invisible for much of my childhood, so maybe that’s why I trained so hard; to stop myself from disappearing altogether. I honestly never thought about it like that before, but the idea has some merit.

When my parents never showed up that day, something inside me broke.

It happened with only a couple of miles left. I remember scanning the faces of the fans that had made their way to that part of the course to cheer us on. I remember searching for a familiar face but finding none.

I instantly went from feeling this robustness coursing through every inch of my sweaty body to feeling weakened and drained of all forward momentum.

My pace slowed to the point where I considered simply stopping. I already knew in my heart that no one would be there waiting to see me cross the finish line so I figured I might as well throw in the towel.

That’s the moment I felt a Neal grab my hand. He was a year older than me, a senior, and we had become quite good friends during our time running together. He knew how much it meant to me, to for once have someone there supporting me, so that’s what he did. Despite having just finished the course himself, he came back for me and ran beside me the rest of the way, cheering me on the whole time.

It meant everything to me, but in the end, it wasn’t enough to keep me going. I finished that race, but I never ran another meet again.

By the time summer rolled around, I would have a new boyfriend – a young man who I would end up marrying just four short years later. I was still quite thin, but certainly not as robust as I’d been. I started smoking more and drinking more and running less and less.

By the time I had my first child, I had pretty much given up on exercise of any kind altogether. Baby weight packs a punch, and I was slow to get back up. After my second child was born, I became determined to get back into shape. I started walking regularly again and was relieved when the weight finally, albeit slowly, began melting away.

But eventually, the demands of motherhood and later homeschooling, had me working harder and harder just to keep up, which meant less and less time to take care of myself.

“A lack of robustness denotes ill health, psychological or physical, it can feed on itself; the less contact we have with anything other than our own body, our own rhythm or the way we have arranged our life, the more afraid we can become of the frontier where actual noise, meetings and changes occur.” – David Whyte Consolations

My lack of robustness did feed on itself. It was a vicious cycle, and my psychological and physical health began to suffer for it. Since I wasn’t taking great care of myself, my weight started creeping back up. The more weight I gained, the more I began to hate myself. The more I hated myself, the more I squirreled away from society in general, refusing invitations that required me to step outside my front door and leave the safety of the cocoon I had made for myself. Unlike when I was a child, now I was choosing to be invisible. Accepting an invitation to a party meant I might be asked to another, and then another, and I wasn’t willing to take that kind of risk.

At a certain point, my isolation became a real problem in our marriage. My husband started to resent always being asked, “Where’s Amy?” and I couldn’t say that I blamed him.

The guilt I felt over continually disappointing my family, only added to my overall unease.

I was running out of excuses and was exhausted from lying to myself about it. I knew I needed to do something that would force me to change.

I didn’t know that the catalyst for that change would come from having an x-ray taken of my back.

It happened at my chiropractor’s office. After taking a series of x-rays, he called me into his office to have a look. I vaguely remember him saying something about the curvature of my spine, but I was no longer listening. He may have been pointing out the spaces between my vertebrae, but all I saw were shades of gray.

It looked like I was wearing a fat suit over my skeleton, which I guess essentially I was.

I was mortified. I never felt more ashamed of myself than I did at that moment and I have never forgotten it.

Like that day so long ago on the cross country trail, something inside me broke, only this time I let myself feel it. I had no choice; I couldn’t get that image out of my mind.

I started walking every day again, and each time I did, I felt like I was being healed. Being in nature brought me back to my senses, quite literally.

Reconnecting to the ground, grounded me, and reconnected me with all the parts of myself that had been neglected for far too long.

Slowly, over time, I became less afraid to say yes.

“To come out and meet the world again is to heal from isolation, from grief, from illness, from the powers and traumas that first robbed us of that meeting and of a vital sense of presence in the world; to be robust again is to leave the excuses we have made not to risk ourselves and to find ourselves alive once more in the encounter.” – David Whyte Consolations

I can’t run for miles barefoot anymore, or climb stairs three at a time, or leap over rock walls, or walk on my hands.

These days, I often catch myself involuntarily groaning when I sit or stand, and the more I find myself doing it, the more I don’t like it. I long for the days when I had more energy; when I felt bone-deep robustness as I moved effortlessly through life.

But while I may no longer be as robust in the physical sense, I’m now able to engage in robust conversations; conversations that would have scared me back then. Conversations where I’m willing to risk myself that leave me feeling heard and understood, which at times can be no small feat.

 

NEXT WEEK: ROME

About Amy

I am many things to many people. Daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, friend. I am a worshiper of nature on a journey inward, rewriting my story one word at a time.

One Reply

  1. Jeff

    Keep up the good work! Both physically and mentally! Love you!

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