I started thinking about this post when I was dangling from the bar in the playground. I wasn’t supposed to be dangling, I was supposed to be doing chin ups, but the up part… well… it was more complicated than I first expected. There were a couple of guys putting some new paint on the pool house trim at the local rec center where I am dangling, slightly defeated. I pretended I was stretching my arms, as if I intended to be hanging here unable to lift myself. I may be weak, but still proud. I’m no triathlete, but I pride myself in staying in shape. Hundreds of flights of stairs, yoga, push ups… I mean… I put effort into this. An inch shouldn’t be too much to ask. Seriously, an inch up. How hard can that be? Apparently, much harder than it looks.
I flip over and dangle by my knees off the bar, upside down. Though absolutely no health benefits in doing this, it still provided a brief acrobatic feeling that took away the shame of no chin up. I swung back and forth looking at the slides and jungle gym. Kids play here all day and they use these bars. When I was a kid I used these bars. I bend backward and grab my ankles. If I had a popsicle hanging out of my mouth the scene would be complete. I commit to returning here several times a week. One pull up. One chin up. Anything. That is my goal. My defiant Holy Grail.
I get back on my bike and head off down a trail that winds through neighborhoods and hugs a creek. I haven’t ridden in years, but like the chin ups, feels like the next phase somehow. Nothing makes you feel younger than riding a bike. In two seconds you are ten years old and it’s summer. It does not provide the steady attention to nature I enjoy while hiking, but the feel of the wind in my face, and the speed… oh that feeling of flying down a hill. The thrill is no less wonderful to me now at age 52 than it was at 10. I’m rusty, but I don’t care. It’ll come.
I try some of the dirt paths made by local children. Some are steep down hills, while others have little bumps for rocketing your bike over. I delight in being one of the neighbor boys dashing over a hillside for just a few moments. There is a curious fear at lifting off the ground on a bike that daunts me a little at my age. “Broken bones and hips”, my ego whispers. “You could fall or crash”, the small voice whines. So I do it again and again. Fear be damned.
As I ride along, I realize there must be a way to get through a neighbor’s yard to the field beyond. A child would’ve figured that out. So I begin to look and sure enough, a slip of a pathway passes between two houses covered in bike treads that leads to the larger field. A man is heading out with the trash from one house and I dash down the passage quick as lightning before I can be flagged off. I laugh out loud as I hit the field and race across it through tall grass and hard packed trails. I am the opportunistic thief Oliver Twist would’ve been proud of.
Here’s the thing about falling in love with yourself. You are constantly looking for ways to enjoy life. Ways to entertain yourself. Ways to make yourself laugh. I laugh mostly at what I’ve been told about aging. When I turned forty the women at my office gave me black balloons and my cake in a wheel chair. They meant it to be funny, of course, but we don’t realize how much we tell each other it’s over when really its just begun. How much we share the passed on story of decline and decay that was given to us by someone else. That life is like some creepy, slow crawl to the grave. I don’t want to give that to any of you. I want to give you vitality and joy. Laughter and hunger to learn new things. To be plotting your next re-invention, not your retirement.
I want to give you defiance of what everyone has ever told you about the laws of the body and death. Death is coming. It is as certain as the sun rising. So what? That isn’t even interesting. It’s predictable. What’s interesting is what we are doing with the time we’ve been given. That’s fire. Ask yourself, what do I value above all else? Then chase that with the power of a lion. Today, for me, it’s freedom. It’s remembering the promises I made to myself in my youth. It’s remembering to keep the fire burning in my belly for the life I’ve been given. It’s defying everything I’ve been told about how things should be.
Worth a glance, a short list of those who defied age.