The day I turned 32, I benched at a gym a few hours away from my normal one. The garage bay doors of the Anvil in Cedar Rapids, Iowa are thrown open as wide as they will go when the weather is agreeable–and less agreeable, if you feel the way I do about summer. But it wasn’t summer yet on this day and I remember looking towards the light slanting in from outside as I lifted and everyone else lifted and enjoying the space I was in as much for what I was doing there as how it looked and sounded and felt. I moved in and out of different rooms during my training session–the strongman and powerlifting area for my main work and a smaller assistance area for pull-ups and staring at my phone and the bathroom for…whatever. Sometimes a few children would appear during my floating from one area to another and I noticed a girl watching me. She was pretty young, and because I’m just bad at children in general I’m not sure how to guess how old she was, but we’ll say she was not older than 11. I’m pretty sure about that. Yeah, I’m not having kids, okay?
I don’t do particularly well with people watching me. Ever. Ever, ever. In any circumstance. If you’re in a room with me and you’re watching me do something and I know about it I probably hate you in that moment unless you’re one of about five people. So the kid watched me and I warily watched the kid. Because I grew up in a family filled with judgment, I lived under judgment; the way I tied my shoes was judged, the way I walked was judged, the clothing I wore was judged, and among some relatives how I looked was ALWAYS commented on. Yes, that classic shit that burns the concept into young heads that their aesthetic makeup is their primary worth, that old virus–I contracted it very young, and it stayed, and I used it to try to destroy myself later, but that’s an old story.
Hours later, I received a message online from the girl’s father. Perhaps you can guess how this goes; he said that in the time he had taken the girl to the gym, she had never expressed interest in lifting. He said that after seeing me on that day she said she wanted to lift. And my reaction to this is the point of what I’m writing now. I read what the father of this girl wrote to me and all I could think of was a sense of sorrow for what the girl was going to have to get through as she grew older and a sense of hope that maybe, if she tried lifting and it did work out for her, she would get through things more smoothly. I stop just short of saying more smoothly than I did, but really, I should just say it. There was not much in my life as I grew up to make me feel good about myself. I had a lot of things in my life, a lot of activities, a lot of schooling, a lot of privilege, but for whatever reason things did not align such that any activity in which I partook made me feel a sense of accomplishment, or like I had WORKED for something.
And here’s the thing, I’m not here to write about how lifting changes people’s lives and kids are going to benefit from it becoming a more popular pastime, ESPECIALLY GIRL KIDS. I don’t even have to write that at this point and the story I just related above should do the work for me. I’m more interested in the thought that I didn’t want to think when I read what the father and fellow lifter sent me: that this girl was going to have to get through things in her life. It’s waiting for her. Because I just turned 32 and I am at the point with what has gone on in my life for the last two years where I have learned a few things about the concept of instability and unforeseen events and endings of different varieties and the chasms they leave in their wake. I am not bitching. My point isn’t to hold a pity party. My point is to point out that everyone runs up against obstacle, and so I am not unique, I’m not at all special, and I’m not claiming it. But I am observant and I see patterns and I notice who tends to get through when things go to hell and I try to understand why certain people get through better than others and I’m pretty absolutely sure it often has something to do with people feeling like they have any sort of power. It has something to do with someone feeling like they have accomplished things before and they can and will do so again. I has to do with the work and the trials it takes to get to the point where someone can feel like they have achieved anything.
So if you know me, which most people really don’t and they’re probably lucky for it, then you know that I cling to my lifting like it is a buoy out in the middle of a raging sea, because it is. It is the only thing, and I mean the only thing, that has ever given me a sense that I accomplished something real. School wasn’t real. My degrees, I’m sorry, aren’t real to me. I played a game, I fed into a broken system, I walked away with some pieces of prettily stamped-up paper I believe I have actually lost. And I’m not even saying that lifting being the buoy is a good thing. It’s not, probably. But right now, at the start of 32, there is not a lot else around me to hold onto, and nothing else that feels like it’s going to save me from going under if I let go. So, you don’t. You just keep holding on and you feel the water sometimes at your shoulders and sometimes at your neck and you realize that there’s not a whole lot of possibility within the world of this metaphor–what, is a ship going to come through and save you? Are some seagulls going to come and collectively carry you away? Maybe you just train to swim farther and farther over time. You swim a little farther in one direction and then back to the buoy day after day–every day, a little farther, gaining strength and endurance until one day you swim away from your buoy and you don’t have to swim back if you don’t want to.