Yesterday. Early evening.
I slip into my running shoes and sit down on the kitchen floor by the back door, in front of the rainsplashed full-length mirror.
Slowly, I slide into a stretch, feeling all the little muscles in my legs resisting until, after a minute or so, they loosen all at once. Whatever was taut suddenly feels soft and pliant, and I can bend my torso and rest my face comfortably on my knees.
I’ve always loved this quiet place before a run. I loved it years ago when I was competing, and I love it now, when I run only for myself. These days, it’s like a quiet agreement between myself and my body: a promise that I will listen to it and be gentle with it. That I will challenge it, and enjoy it, but not abuse it.
I realize only now, as I’m typing the words, that this is the kind of silent agreement that lovers make.
And that seems right to me.
Can I tell you something that’s honest? The world I grew up in didn’t teach me to think very highly of my body.
I’ve spoken briefly, now and again, about the fact that I was educated and churched in the conservative Christian milieu. I’m (deeply) grateful for some of the things I learned in that place: to love my enemies. To give generously. To be open to ideas that can’t always be pinned down into clear-cut facts.
But there are other things I learned there — hurtful ideas I’m still trying to shake out of my skull. And I count my thoughts about my body among them.
Outside, the dusk deepens to dark, and it rains.
At first I’m cold, but less than a half-mile into my run, my body warms. The group I’m running with strings out along the trail, their headlamps bobbing in the black, and after cutting through about half the pack, I find my place, and I let my stride settle into a steady length that matches my breathing.
I splash through puddles and smile: this feels good today. Just right.
I’ve had a lot of time, since my recovery from my eating disorder more than a decade ago, to think about how my body relates to my soul. What role the muscles and the sinews, the flesh and bone might play in the life of the spirit that lives beneath.
As I run, I think about the old things I was taught — things I’m shedding now like a husk of dry skin.
I think about the people who taught me that the body was unholy: that it was constantly at war with the goodness my spirit:
And I suppose these people weren’t entirely wrong… But they weren’t entirely right, either. Because while my body is full of longings that aren’t good for me, it’s full of longings that are beautiful, too.
I run a little faster, and more psalms than I can count rush through my head like a river: King David’s words about a mouth that speaks poetry and praise. About eyes that see the Glory.
And I think: this, too, is truth.
I round the halfway mark and run under the bridge, then uphill, my strides smaller and more painful now. I am listening, over the sound of my breaths, for the sound of my heart: the hammer of it in my ears, my throat.
When I am certain that it’s steady, I push forward a little harder: under the second bridge and out into the lonelier dark.
The last mile is always the hardest.
I am learning: little by little, I am learning.
I feel the drops of rain prick the skin of my face, feel my wet hair slap my shoulders, and I think: the body is not a cage — oh, no. It’s not a prison I have to endure until some heavenly homecoming.
If anything, it’s a scaffold: a temporary structure I am using to build something stronger and more lasting within.
I run harder into the rain, and I think about the skyscraper of my spirit — fragile but needle-sharp, rising into cloud. I think about the lacy network of brittle bone that contains it, protects it, allows me to do the work of beautifying it.
And believe me: I can feel that brittleness. With each footstep, I feel my old stress fractures. Shinsplints. The frail state of my 34-year-old knees.
But also, I feel the finish, coming.
I feel the rain on my face.
I feel the breath in my lungs.
I feel my spirit expanding to fill all of myself.
And it’s good.
I promised you that tonight I’d reveal a new project with you, and here it is: for the next thirty days, I’m going to find a way to enjoy my body every day, and then I’m going to share it with you.
Because the body hasn’t always meant joy for me, and these days, I’d like that to change.
I may snap a shot of my hike in the woods, or write two-hundred words about a run. I might tell you what it feels like to cup my palms around a cup of hot tea on a cold night, or show you what it means to sit still under a cloudless sky and feel the sun on my closed eyelids.
Either way, I want to spend this December — a season that is so often about bodily overindulgence followed by self-loathing — using my body a little differently.
I plan to take a healthier kind of pleasure in it, in this brief little moment when it’s mine to enjoy, and chronicle that pleasure every day.
Here’s my first photo:
See you tomorrow. ❤