Heart / Flourishing

The Body Issue

. 23 min read . Written by Russell Smith
The Body Issue

On coming to love my not normal body

The nine-year-old boy stood alone in the middle of the locker room, thin shoulders hunched down, his weak, translucent arms dangling by his gangly side, and his body naked but for his Transformers-themed briefs. He looked down. Tears welled up behind the thick, horn-rim glasses, threatening a flood. Two thick rows of red lockers encircled him like infernal sentries.

He gazed at the white monstrosity on the floor. The two upside-down J’s, attached at the bottoms of the straight edges by hard canvas. On the other side, the same side as the curves of the J’s, two pieces of canvas sat limp, silver buckles peering up like fish in a pond.

The boy stared at the contraption. His back brace. Worn continually throughout the day, except at PE class and while sleeping, in a near-barbaric, slow struggle to wrestle his spine from the grip of scoliosis. A curvature of the spine brought about by the heart surgery the boy had unknowingly endured at 12 days old. That surgery had saved him – for a while. He didn’t know for how long. He knew little about his heart, except that he had a “problem.” And, he intuited that his “heart problem” had caused other problems for him.

In one motion, he bent over and roughly seized the brace with both hands. He rose and turned to the lockers. Fiercely, harder than he had done anything in his short life, he slammed the brace into a locker. He pulled it back and blasted it against the locker again. In his mind, no action in the universe could have contained such power – not the tremendous waterfalls of nature, not the infinite nuclear reactions of the sun, not even the righteous might of God.

After this outburst, he felt only slightly better, the veneer of rage removed. Still he stood shaking in his turbulent emotions.

The tears came. And then a lonely thought, a truism he would not shed – would not know how to shed – for long years, darkened his brow.

The boy loved his life.

I hated my body.

The Body Issue

For many years, the now-defunct ESPN: The Magazine would annually publish a “Body Issue.” It showed amazing athletes in the buff, generally in motion so you could see their incredible musculature, body definition and overall physical development. The poses also helped hide their private parts.

This issue of Solvitur Ambulando is my version of that “Body Issue.” In words and pictures, here is the story of the evolution of my relationship with my body. In this essay, I pull out several moments or activities and reflect on their impact on my relationship with my body. Like all relationships, this one has physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual dimensions.

It is fashionable in productivity circles to suggest “improve by 1% every day.” That is all poppycock. Beyond any but the shortest of timelines, humans simply can’t improve by 1% in a compound fashion over time. Life doesn’t work that way. We quickly reach a place where improving 1% in a month or a quarter becomes grueling. Some of the differences in my body – and advancing my emotional attachment to my body – have come at a pace of 1% per year. This story has taken time and an enormous effort on a weekly and almost daily basis.

As you now know, I didn’t start with a nourishing relationship.

My Heart Problem

Let me start with a bit of background, which framed my young unhappiness with my body. I have a congenital heart defect called Tricuspid atresia. I have undergone three corrective surgeries:

About one in 10,000 babies are born with Tricuspid atresia. At age 38, doctors discovered I also have only one kidney. I asked my heart doctor what the likelihood of both a heart problem and having only one kidney is. He said about one in 100,000 live births.

“But,” I replied sardonically, “my parents always said I was one in a million.”

My heart problem and the surgeries have left their imprints on my body. As have some unknown happenings. For instance, my left arm, while not limp, did not gain much size or strength as I grew up. It seems like I sustained some nerve damage, but no doctor or family member can tell me when or how. Also, I can’t bend my wrists back. When I perform pushups, I do them on my fists.

Weak and Lonely

“No one knows what it’s like

To feel these feelings

Like I do

And I blame you

No one bites back as hard

On their anger

None of my pain and woe

Can show through

But my dreams they aren't as empty

As my conscience seems to be

I have hours, only lonely”

– The Who, Behind Blue Eyes

I felt timid and often lonely as a child. I didn’t do much physical activity. I played some with my brother and friends. I swam a little. I never played with the lighthearted abandon of my friends. I feared I would do “something” to damage my heart. My chest might get hit by a ball or an elbow or by falling. We didn’t know what would happen if I got hit in the chest – and I didn’t want to find out. When I did try to exert myself, like when I tried out for the 8th-grade basketball team, it usually ended disastrously.

In late middle school and high school, my classmates hit puberty – the boys became tall and strong. I could detect a native yearning for adventure in them. They played basketball, soccer, baseball and football – hard. My schoolmates started dating one another or other kids they knew. Somehow their physical development and dating became affixed in my mind, and of course, they are linked in life.

I wanted a girlfriend so badly. I wanted that companionship and feeling of fun. Instead, I hit puberty late – as in, age 17. Yeah. That was …. awesome. By age 18, I stood 5’9” but weighed 105 lbs. I played no sports, although I enjoyed watching them. Even as a senior, I felt a deep sense of caution about my body and inadvertently damaging my heart. In my mind, my heart problem, and my body as a result, prevented me from attracting a girlfriend.

By then, my resentment of my body had also morphed into attempts at witty dismissal of my look and limitations. At the time, I liked shopping at Structure (I can’t recall why I liked the store, simply that I did like its clothes), a men’s store owned by Limited Brands (now Express Inc.) For a few years, they held a “Structure Man of the Year” contest. In 1994, I posed in Structure boxers, crouching, arms flexed, half-shit-eating-grin and half-faux-tiger anger on my face. Friends snapped some photos, and off they were shipped to the contest.

I never heard back.

Almost 30 years later, I recreate the famous 1994 entry photo for Structure Man of the Year. Sadly, the original photo has been lost to the cruel passage of time.

Downhill and Up

Weigh Enough!

– Yelled by the crew coxswain to halt rowing.

The ladies may not have felt attracted to my body, but I soon had fans swooning over it. Early in my freshman year at college, some guys saw me at a party and couldn’t stop pestering me:

“You have to come out for the crew team! You have the perfect coxswain’s body!”

Indeed I did. Light, but tall-ish so I could see above the rowers while steering. In their view, I weighed exactly enough.

The boathouse sat on the Potomac River, about a 30-minute walk downhill from school. The downhill walk would be fine. After a youth of anxiety and little physical exertion, I worried about the 30-minute walk back uphill after practice. But hey, I figured, why not give it a shot? If the walk got hard, I could pause for a break or grab a cup of tea and rest. And if it became too much for my heart, I could leave the team.

The early morning walking became maybe not a happy routine, but one I could manage. And that was a victory too. I did have to stop and rest going back uphill a few mornings. (Huge thanks to my friend Greg Prata for always staying with me and ensuring I made it back safely). But mostly, I made it fine. To ensure I had energy for the walk, I began eating more and better food. Even I gained the typical “freshman fifteen” pounds.

During my senior year, I even had a girlfriend. It lasted about 18 months then fizzled out. But hey, that lifted my spirits.

By the end of college, my feelings about my body had improved a bit. I could walk longer and further than I had thought. And I had attracted a girlfriend. I felt broad hesitation about my body and its capabilities. I still felt held back. I weighed about 120 lbs, had little muscle and felt puny.

Not Normal

I Work My Body And Drive It.

– The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, Chapter 9 verse 27. Displayed prominently at Whelan Strength Training, Washington, DC.

Almost a decade later, I still walked a fair bit, to and from the Metro daily. I traveled for work two to three days per week, so my body took a different sort of physical use – dashing through airports, harried stress of life on the road, and eating meals of highly varied quality. I still looked weak. Worse, I felt weak. I felt tired, punctuated by manic bouts of energy to perform in my job.  I couldn’t countenance that feeling anymore. Something inside me called me to do more. I really can’t explain it.  Deep dissatisfaction with my health and strength rose up inside me.

Over a period of months, I talked with the strongest colleague I knew. He encouraged me to get more physically active. I recall a conversation we had:

“You should start lifting weights, Russell,” he said.

“I don’t know if I should or I can, because of my heart,” I replied.

“Look, you carry about a 15- to 20-lb suitcase every time you fly, right? So you can manipulate that weight. Why don’t you start there and see how it feels?” he urged me.

I got a Gold’s Gym membership but trained erratically. I had never lifted weights so even on machines, I didn’t know if I was doing it correctly.

I returned to my work friend, frustrated with my effort and my lack of knowledge about lifting. He gave me a book about strength training called Brawn, by Stuart McRobert – a weightlifting writer, publisher and devotee living in Cyprus of all places. At the time, the book was not easy to track down.

“Russell, I never gained more size or strength than when I followed this blueprint,” he said, “Even better, it gave me a ton of motivation to stick to the plan and work hard every session.”

I read Brawn. I read it again. I devoured it.

Then I began subscribing to McRobert’s magazine, Hardgainer – now published as an online magazine, Hardgainer 2.0. In its pages, I quickly became a fan of a writer named “Maximum Bob” Whelan. His passion and knowledge struck me as especially sensible, profound, and workable with my body. I tried to follow his advice – when I made it to the gym.

I needed to make a bigger commitment. As it turned out, Max Bob trained out of Washington, DC, where I lived at the time. My mind resisted my wish to improve myself. “Why would this strongman want to train me, a weedy weakling?” After a few false starts, I got up the gumption to call Bob.

Max Bob generously and beautifully tells the story of my decade of exercising with him in the pages of Hardgainer 2.0 –” A Champion Named Braveheart” –  which Stuart McRobert kindly allowed me to reprint.

As Bob noted on the sign into his basement gym, “If You Train Here, You Are NOT Normal.” You sought improvement and excellence. You attacked the iron with all your might that day. You might win, the iron might win; your spirit of fight at that moment provided the key ingredient to long-term growth.

Locked into the battle with the iron, I recalled that 9-year-old boy, angry and fettered at the body nature had forced him to wear. I channeled that anger and pain and bitterness into my exertions. The iron transformed my anger, as if by alchemy, into resolve. Steadily, a determination grew inside me: birth might have given me a weak body, but I didn’t have to accept it. With work, I could improve – even if only a little and even if only after a long time. Today, I could bench press 20 lbs. Tomorrow, could I press 21 lbs? If so, I’d earned a victory. Twenty-one > twenty. If not, could I maintain my strength to lift 20 lbs? I found a triumph even in preventing deterioration. Strenuous effort effected wonders.

By my standards, I became much stronger. Month by month, I could notice the tiny weight additions accumulating. You can see some of the torture devices – I mean, equipment – Bob used in his gym. They included the TruSquat, leg press, deadlift (which I did one-legged), iso-row, chest press, overhead press, bench press, dumbbell curl, pull down, neck machine, grip weights, wrist roller, dips pullover, and chin machine. You can also see Sandbag Alley. Bob would fill a military-style duffel bag with sand. You had to grip it tightly with your arms and hands, smashed up against your torso, because it moved and slipped as you walked. The goal was to walk down one city block and back, dropping the sandbag as few times as possible. At my strongest, I carried a sandbag of 100 lbs, and dropped it four times.

Different sandbag, gym and age. Still hard as hell. Carrying 90 lbs like a mule.

After that, I felt whooped for the day. Over the years, I grew to a weight of 147 lbs – huge by my standards. And by my standards, I looked strong. More importantly, I felt strong.

Training with Bob, I realized that feelings of strength and well-being came from doing the actions of strength and well-being.

Yes, my body had changed – but not that much. My mindset about my body had transformed though. I came to revel in the body hewn from strenuous effort.

I realized how much this new view of health and my body had become infused in me and my mindset when I had a health scare in late 2006. A dear friend died suddenly and I took refuge in alcohol – especially stingers, a concoction of brandy or whiskey and creme de menthe, and martinis. One day, my heart went into tachycardia, racing at over 180 beats per minute. At the hospital, they cardioverted me (electrocuting my heart back into rhythm, like using an Automated External Defibrillator). In the spring, as a follow-up, I had an ablation – some electrical work on the heart done by catheterization. Seeing the doctor a couple of weeks after the procedure, she urged me to stop strength training. I looked down, crestfallen. Tears welled up, like in my nine-year-old self, but now tears of an identity in forced surrender.  My head hung limply. My mind focused on the one-legged deadlifts I performed every week with Max Bob. Damn in those moments I hated them. At this moment, my soul cried out in horror that I might never do them again.

The doctor saw me. “You really enjoy this training, don’t you?”

“Yes, I love it. I feel strong and able and alive – like nothing else in life,” I replied.

She paused. A long pause. I heard her breathing, or was it mine?

“If it means that much to you, keep doing it. There are mental benefits to doing things you love, even if I don’t advise it for your heart. Be careful though.”

Elation washed over me. It was time to return to the iron game.

It Is Solved By Walking

“                                    “

The Ventures, Walk, Don’t Run

Later in 2007, I met my now-wife, Kathleen. We began dating in May of 2008. Kathleen loved – and still loves – walking. In Washington, she lived near Adams Morgan and Kalorama Park. From the DuPont Circle Metro, she had about a mile walk uphill to her place. Sometimes she would walk all the way to work or back home from near the White House. That was over 1.5 miles uphill home.

Well, I really liked this girl, so I figured I better start walking a lot too. We walked all over the city and all over wherever we traveled.

Walking with her brought me back to the benefits of walking I’d experienced as a freshman on the crew team – and much more. Yes, I could walk uphill – for long distances for a long time. I did it slowly. I might have to stop to rest occasionally. But I could do it.

One summer night, we’d bought a new picnic backpack and took it to a jazz concert near the National Mall, which is way downhill from her apartment. I felt a touch edgy having to carry weight uphill so far in such heat. But, I figured, if I became fatigued, we could always take the Metro or a taxicab back home.

We’d walked about one-third the way and I began feeling pain in the back of my right shoulder. It continued and worsened. I became concerned and confused. If I ever had a serious issue with my heart, I figured it would occur on the left side of my chest or maybe the center. This pain came from the right rear shoulder. Surely this isn’t heart-related, I silently attempted to reassure myself. But the pain felt so strange and I sensed nervousness surging in my body.

“Love, I gotta stop,” I said.

“Are you tired? Out of breath?” she asked.

“No, my breathing is fine, but I feel this terrible pain in my right shoulder,” I reported.

“Well, let’s rest a minute. Why don’t you take off the picnic backpack?” she urged. So I did.

“Um, you’re bleeding,” she said.

“What?! How am I bleeding?”

We looked down at the backpack. The tip of the knife in the picnic set had pierced the fabric of the backpack. With every step, it jabbed me in the right rear shoulder. Relieved, I wrapped the knife in a napkin at the bottom of the backpack. We resumed walking and soon made it home. Ha! When walking, I had more to fear from a rogue knife than from my heart problem.

If strength training with Max Bob helped me unlock new positivity around how my body felt, walking with Kathleen expanded my view of my health and my body. Cardiovascular and lung endurance mattered too. Not at crazy elevated levels – but at slightly higher beats per minute and respirations than usual, my heart felt stronger. My blood circulation improved so that I felt less exhausted in the cold and less beat up by heat. This happened at the margins, but again, I perceived subtle improvement.

Kathleen and I still walk a lot. When I walk a lot in a week – four or more days hitting my target of 12,000 steps per day –  I feel healthy. If I walk less than that, I feel off, a bit down, and a touch enervated.

So I keep moving.

Aurem Cordis

ΓΝΩΘΙ ΣΑΥΤΟΝ “Know Thyself.”

– The Oracle at Delphi

In 2016, for reasons still unknown, I started feeling fatigued. I spent a day or two per week in bed, unable to do much. My stomach became distended. I always felt full and bloated. As a result, I ate less and lost weight. At one point, my weight dropped below 120 lbs.

After a battery of tests, my heart doctors put me on Lasix, an antibiotic and a steroid inhaler. That mixture did the trick. The Lasix eliminated the excess fluid in my body. As I felt less bloated, I ate more and regained weight. The antibiotic nixed the infection that had seemingly gotten into that fluid. And the inhaler, which I no longer use, gave me a kick of energy when needed.

While I didn’t know, I had an inkling and some evidence that my eating habits had triggered the health setback. To that point, I did not pay much attention to the foods and drinks I put in my body. I drank soda, ate gobs of candy and usually stopped for fast food once or twice weekly. I had watched my food intake better after my surgery in 2014, but convenience and the sweet embrace of salty and sugary yumminess usually trumped vigilance. Also, I had never bothered to pay attention to how my body felt after ingesting these craptastic items.

I had to change. I had to spend more time and effort paying attention to my diet. I hired a nutritionist, Natalie Guarnaschelli. She first tasked me with keeping a food and beverage journal. Eye-opening doesn’t even begin to describe the experience. There, in black and white, my habits stared back at me. I was drinking not the one soda a week I had believed, but three. I was eating not one candy bar every week, but one every two days. There was a bag of potato chips. There was the McDonald’s for breakfast….and lunch.

Natalie urged me to plan. For instance, on occasion, I felt weak and tired. Before working with her, I would grab whatever food I could find nearby – chips, soda, candy bar, whatever. She urged me to start taking a lunch box with me and keeping some good, healthy snacks in it – a banana, an apple, a decently-healthy granola bar, and so on. I still carry it with me, keeping good snacks in the car, ever-ready when needed. I carry a water bottle with me at all times, so I can reach for it when thirsty rather than juice or soda. Now I fill my work pantry and fridge with healthier snacks – fruit, some snack sticks on the healthier side of the scale, assorted unsalted nuts, and a few other items I enjoy.

The ole lunchbox. Six years and still going strong.

She also prompted me to pay attention to how my body responded to the foods and drinks I ingested. All along, my body had told me it didn’t feel good after eating potato chips or carbonated soda. I shrugged off those signals. Now I paid attention and adjusted to the information my body hurled my way.

These steps seem minor, but they transformed my relationship with food. Knowledge doesn’t always reform behavior. It didn’t completely correct my poor habits, but awareness massively improved them. My soda, candy, sweets and fast food consumption shrunk dramatically.

By 2017, except for a few months before and after surgery in 2014, I had not trained seriously for five years. Yes, I walked a lot and I continued working with a physical therapist. But something seemed amiss.

With my heart issue, posture and breathing capacity make a huge impact on my health. My two surgeries have left scar tissue that augments the caving in of my shoulders – the hunching in toward my chest. My heart doesn’t pump efficiently – so, if a normal person carries, say, 100 mL of oxygenated blood in a certain time, my heart only pumps 55 mL. So my lung capacity and health are critical to maintain. Fifty-five is way better than 40 or 30.

The time had come to focus on posture, breathing and flexibility. My nutritionist introduced me to Laurie LeCompte, a yoga instructor and owner of Yoga Baum in Louisville. Laurie began slowly with me. She had me perform many stretches and poses sitting or with a chair in my first year of practice with her.

We worked on shoulder mobility, core strength and overall flexibility. She had me plank, which I started at 30 seconds for three reps, with plenty of rest in between. Like with Max Bob, progress came slowly, but it came.

Almost six years later, I can feel and see the impact of this work on my body. Walking our dog Teddy (until his passing last summer) and now Olivia and Otis, I can tell my posture has improved. Not by military standards – but by my standards, I walk, stand and sit much straighter. My max plank is now over 5 minutes – an unfathomable duration when I began this journey.

While I feel good about the gains, I take away a different lesson from working with Natalie and Laurie. They imbued in me the necessity of listening to my body – paying attention to what it tells me – and adjusting accordingly.

This isn’t rocket science. My body had been telling me for years that I shouldn’t drink soda – it always made me feel bloated and gross. Now, I have listened to that signal and changed my behavior. I drink very little soda – even my beloved and delicious Cheerwine. The yummy taste simply doesn’t make up for the lousy feeling in my gut.

The same holds with other facets of my body. I can tell with much finer senses when my posture has deteriorated even slightly. When I sense that feeling, I tell Laurie and we especially emphasize posture work for the next few months. If I feel tightness in my calves or hamstrings, we work on stretching them.

My work with my body has become an exercise in constant fine-tuning. Listen, sense, adjust. Listen, sense, adjust.

Aurem cordis – listening with the ears of the heart – as it were.



For the Dauphin,

I stand here for him: what to him from England?


Scorn and defiance; slight regard, contempt,

And any thing that may not misbecome

The mighty sender

– William Shakespeare, King Henry V, Act II, scene 4

By 2018, we had lived in Louisville for six years. I walked a lot. I had improved my diet. My yoga practice and physical therapy had enhanced my posture and related elements of health. But I felt a growing restlessness.

My attitude needed a kick in the ass. In my decade of working with Max Bob, I came to relish attacking the iron with a mindset of toughness. I needed the intensity and white-hot focus of attacking the iron again. I needed more iron in my life.

Laurie introduced me to her strength trainer, Ethan Wilson, who runs the gym Eat the Weights.

In late 2019, I had heard enough about a company called GORUCK promoting an odd sport called rucking that I wanted to try it out. In short, rucking = putting weight in a backpack, putting the backpack on, and going for a walk.

I started light. In fact, for my first monthly challenge, I wore only an empty rucksack. I wanted to see how my body responded. It liked this rucking. I liked it a lot.

By early 2020, I was rucking with 10 lbs in the rucksack. I began training for my first GORUCK event, a 5K in Cincinnati. While training for the 5K, I assumed that would be my top distance – I would never be able to do more.

I finished that 5K, including a looooong walk up some stairs, with the help of my friends in Cincinnati rucking clubs. At the end, I felt good. I felt tough. I felt accomplished – in a physical sense – which, given my heart problem, pumped my spirit up tremendously. I liked the hard edge that developed during my training – that I would not let the distance or weight or weather defeat me.

Keep going. You’ll make it.

With the coming of Covid, I began rucking more as my family took long walks with our dog. I began wondering…just wondering…could I do longer distances? GORUCK hosts 5K, 10K, 15K, 12 mile, 26.2 mile and 50 mile courses. I tackled a 10K in April and felt terrific. That’s halfway to a 12-miler, I thought. Could I possibly do 12 miles?

I trained. Each week, I went on three of four rucks, of ever-increasing distance. I added more water, which I would need for a 12-miler, and which weighs … a lot.

In late May, I tackled a 12-miler in Louisville. Four hours and forty minutes later, BAM! I had completed it!

Over the summer, I wondered if I could do a GORUCK Challenge – in this case, it was called a Light. Five to seven hours of rucking with a team, carrying heavy objects, interspersed with exercises devised by the event leader, called a cadre. Sandbags – check. Metal weights – check. Assorted other heavy crap – yep.

That November, I tackled a Light in Cincinnati. More than six hours and nearly 10 miles later, we finished.

GORUCK Light class 3565. We all completed what we started. I’m on the far left, holding the American flag.

I’d carried my rucksack with 10 lbs in it (plus water). At times, I’d also carried a 40 lbs sandbag, For a short distance, I hauled a 60 lbs sandbag. And for a very short distance, I carried the 80 lbs sandbag. I didn’t attempt the 120 lb sandbag, even one step. But hey, that gave me a goal I am still working toward.

That Light jolted me with so much confidence. I had trained my body and endured something hard. I had kept going, even when the sandbag crushed me, even when the metal plate tore my hands. I had taken one more step. Maybe only one more step until I cried out for a teammate to take the load. But one step nonetheless.

The next day, I completed a 5K. Tough weekend. I did it.

I care about patches. It’s the seemingly stupidest form of motivation, but it works.

When I ruck, I mutter bizarre sayings to motivate myself. I’ll repeat the line from the movie Top Gun when Maverick has launched off the aircraft carrier to aid Iceman and Hollywood in their fight against the MiGs.

A voice in my head then shouts the obvious putdown:

“Idiot, what are you talking about? You are walking at, oh, maybe 3.3 miles per hour. Supersonic? Give me a break, doofus!”

I suppress and kill that voice. I’m supersonic.

At other times, vivid images of rescuing people I love come to mind. They’re trapped in a burning building up ahead. In a hoarse whisper, I prod myself, “I have to get there. I have to get there. I have to save them.” Often, the image becomes so lifelike that tears come to my eyes. “I have to get there. I have to save them.”

These tricks work. I feel my heartbeat pick up and my focus narrow – step, step, step. Keep going. My intensity bears down – step, step, step. Keep going.

GORUCK has a training community, Tribe ‘n Training. Each month has a theme – such as Change, Breathe, Fight, Revolt, Dare, Courage, Strength and Risk. Each month’s theme comes with a corresponding rucking challenge, ruck physical training element, book to read, and sometimes “miscellaneous activities.” Complete the challenge and you earn the patch. They are hard. I joined Tribe ‘n Training right out of the gate in January 2021. In more than two years since, I have been able to complete exactly one monthly challenge.

It was July 2021. I know the theme by heart, because it symbolizes what strength training and rucking have become in my life.


Strength training and rucking have become my double-barreled middle fingers to my heart problem. My “eff you.” My actions of defiance. My shattering of my perception of the limits it has foisted upon me.

Strangely, this posture of defiance has graced me with added comfort in and affection for my body. It has given me a struggle in which I have found joy. My body set a bar over me, and pressed down hard. I enjoy pressing back, seeing how much higher I might take my body’s abilities.

Maybe no higher. Maybe I can only prevent my body from pushing further down for a time. I rejoice in this labor.

Joy and Enjoyment

“People believe we reveal ourselves when we give a gift. We truly reveal ourselves when we receive a gift.”

– Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., political philosophy professor, Georgetown University

[I]it matters very little whether a man is discontented in the name of pessimism or progress, if his discontent does in fact paralyse his power of appreciating what he has got. The real difficulty of man is not to enjoy lamp-posts or landscapes, not to enjoy dandelions or chops; but to enjoy enjoyment. To keep the capacity of really liking what he likes; that is the practical problem which the philosopher has to solve.”

– G.K. Chesterton, British writer, Autobiography

All of the moments I have covered in this essay fuse into one great bundle, which only now, in the act of writing this essay, can I discern and form the whole picture of. The building blocks of my exercise practice, the attempt at knowing myself and my body, the defiance – they all point, as do other facets of my life, toward joy. Delight – jubilation even – in the unspeakable wonder in the gift of my life. Enjoy life, for a few moments, for a few of these human years, however imperfect or damaged or limited.

I have arrived at this place, in a journey that has taken decades, forced tears from my eyes, strained my muscles past their weakness into a touch of greater strength, and lifted my spirit from a hollow hatred into a wondrous and expansive joy. Here’s to every step on that path, and to however many more I am granted.

I love my body.

Nondum Complevit

I see an ab muscle outline. I’m not kidding! It's taken my 20+ years. Worth the effort.
February 11, 2023

Training photos taken by Andrea Hughes on January 23, 2023. I can’t express my gratitude sufficiently to her for capturing the spirit I attempt to bring to my exercise practice. Thank you, Andrea!

Last photo, from February 11, 2023, taken by my Foster friend, the one and only Minnow Park. Thank you, Minnow, for perfectly recording my joy and revelry!

This essay was written in conjunction with Foster Season 2, one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. As always, my Foster friends made this essay far better than it started. Thank you to Jude Klinger, Alicia Kenworthy, DJ May, Katerina Bohle Carbonell, Jess Sun, Jen Vermet, Sena Gürdoğan and Rob Hardy. And to Joyce Guan West for her inspired counsel about it. Thank you all!