By the time my brother was in his mid-fifties the best description of him was “a portly gentleman.” Like most people these days he had a sedentary job and a sedentary lifestyle. He was a skilled regional table-tennis champion and regarded that as serious exercise. Until the day he went up the short flight of stairs in his home and discovered he was out of breath.
Within a week he signed up with a local running club. A year later, he ran his first marathon. This year he’s aiming for 12:12, which is twelve marathons in twelve months. His health is greatly improved and his self-confidence has never been higher. He will turn 60 in a far happier and healthier condition than when he was twenty years younger.
My son was a timid child, afraid of failure and deeply lacking in self-confidence. During High School he decided to get a grip on his life and volunteered for various clubs including Chess, Mock Trial, and Cross-Country. He started accompanying me to the gym and we took up Krav Maga together. Today he’s a confident and thoughtful young man, an ultra-runner in superb physical condition, and cooks all his own meals from healthy ingredients. He is a mentor for others when requested, and is eager for new challenges.
For both of these family members, exercise opened up a new world.
It’s easy to forget in our modern world of conveniences and canned entertainment that we evolved to be active on a daily basis. It’s easy to forget that we used to connect with each other constantly. For both my brother and my son, their physical activities are also social activities. The benefits are physical, emotional, and intellectual.
We simply don’t get these things from sitting in a cubicle all day and then slumping in front of Netflix until we can’t keep our eyes open any longer.
I constantly hear people bemoaning the fact they “don’t have time” to look after themselves. But we all have precisely the same amount of time.
The difference is in how we spend it. It’s actually not obligatory for us to be slaves to our phones, responding to every incoming alert. It’s not compulsory for us to spend hours staring at a screen in the hope of distracting ourselves from the fact we hate our lives. It’s not written into law that we have to drive 7/10ths of a mile to the supermarket instead of walking there.
These are all choices we make. Usually we make poor quality choices so we end up feeling even more disempowered, dissatisfied, and disconnected.
When I relocated to the USA in 1991 I was struck by the fact that everything was backward. The more desirable something was purported to be, the more worthless and dissatisfying it truly was. Americans seemed to spend their lives chasing things that took them further and further away from real human contentment. It seemed that US citizens were merely walking trash cans into which large corporations endlessly (and very profitably) poured their harmful products.
So I decided to opt out. No television, no US media of any kind, no Hollywood McSlop for the mind. The first few years saw me relying on print editions of The Economist and the local library. As the Internet came of age, life became significantly easier and today I get my news online from The Economist, France24, l’Obs, and Киевская почта. For general information about the world we live in, YouTube has excellent videos on cosmology, physics (Leonard Susskind’s lectures are priceless), history, biology, engineering, and pretty much any topic about which you may be curious.
Yet despite this plethora of riches I strictly limit my time online because the real world matters so much more. I want to be out pushing my body and connecting with other people in real life. Six hundred Facebook friends are nowhere near as satisfying as three real-life companions. My phone is off more hours of the day than it’s on. Anyone who can’t handle the fact that I may not respond to a message for several hours automatically drops out of my social circle and that’s fine because I prefer to be with people who, like me, aren’t slaves to their devices.
I know I’m a curiosity tucked away at the back of the Great Shop of Life, gathering dust far from the transiently fashionable ephemera that fill most people’s lives. But I’m happy here, mingling with the small number of other curiosities who likewise feel that modern life leaves a great deal out of the picture. If you ever feel like you’re drowning but don’t understand why, I invite you to meander to the back of the Shop where you’ll find us among the cobwebs, laughing and loving and having a great time.
You might even like it here.