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0.4 | Movement
444 days ago I died.
April 1st, 2020
It wasn't the finality of life kind of death – instead it's the kind of death that you remember. A permanent etch in your memories that has an indelible before and after.
It may sound like a lurching transition from one life into a completely different one. But in the moment, it isn't obviously or memorably different. It's instead one, that only in retrospect, changed everything.
At that point 9181 days of my life had passed. 96% of my life to date.
Since then 444 days have passed. The other 4% of my life.
I look in the mirror daily. Sometimes I cringe. Sometimes I exalt.
Why do I want my body to look a certain way? Why do I find what I am, materially, to sometimes be remarkable, and other times, downright embarrassing?
There is a lot of talk about body image, body positivity, body acceptance, like talking about it will really change how we internally feel. Maybe.
Honestly it really hasn't for me.
Maybe you're on Instagram or TikTok, watching people flaunt their chiseled bodies, their flattering new style, their beastly workout routine, their healthy diet. All of the perfectly timed, tailored, and filtered performances.
Is it all a cry for attention? Maybe. But we listen to it. We watch it. We relish in other people's images of their life.
We know it's all a sort of farce. We desperately wish it wasn't. We know something must be missing – there always is – but what if this time, they were actually perfect? Wouldn't that be something?
It's a blind hope really, disguised as attention.
What else do we have to compare ourselves against? In the absence of self driven ideals, culture fills in those gaps.
We watch the people with the money, the time, the knowledge, and sometimes the favorable genetics, with a sweltering envy. It's not that they aren't admirable people, or that they aren't driven by the same cultural objectives that we've all implicitly agreed upon. It's just that they are them - they have the attention and admiration for now– and we are us, on the sidelines, craving.
If I am not them, how will I be noticed, respected, valued?
How will I be loved?
It's all a reinforced cultural norm– regardless of gender or ethnicity – a culture that while predominantly Victorian in origin, is now the lingua franca culture of the Internet we all live in.
We struggle to share ourselves as we are. We filter, we restrict, we construct carefully crafted images of self.
We loathe negativity. We read other's negativity in our voice. We reinforce external perceptions, without giving ourselves the chance to truly perceive ourselves.
We give a passing grace for other's flaws, but to ourselves, the internal incessant haranguing seems like a necessary part of existence.
I grew up in an environment that did not favor movement. It favored the results, but never the performance. I thought I should look a certain way, but how I got there wasn't important.
One of the most popular greetings in most Indian households is, "Wow beta (son) you've lost so much weight". It's a strange greeting, perhaps a nod to the predominance of high blood pressure in the community.
I grew up never really understanding the relationship between my body and my self. But I knew others seem to care, for some unknown reason.
It wasn't that I was unathletic. But I wasn't fit either. I partook in various forms of movement from martial arts to hiking to biking and swimming. I found the occasional joy in them, but I never really cared much for them.
But still I judged myself constantly. I found myself judging others. I felt good if I was the fittest person in the room, I felt self conscious if I was not. I created a self deprecating hierarchy in my head.
I equated the discipline, the self-knowledge, the socioeconomic advantages of being fit, with self respect.
I feared that if I didn't, I wouldn't be respected. I wouldn't be loved. That I would always be playing catchup to that elusive ideal, that others, not me, possessed.
As an adult I tried so many different things. I played tennis. I practiced yoga. I swam. I biked. I hiked. I lifted. I learned how to move.
I tried extreme sports, I tried personal challenges.
Sometimes I liked it. Often I was pretty good at it. But none of it was really sustainable. Change one thing, and it was a reset. Nothing ever stuck.
I valued the movement, sure, but I lied to myself about how much I did. I perpetually found other things that felt more worth my time and energy.
I gained weight, I lost weight. It was all a rollercoaster of confusion.
Why did I care so much to begin with?
Really what I craved was permanence.
I craved a state, that once achieved would remain steady. I would be fit, I would have a body that myself and others respected, and for the rest of time, it would be one less thing to concern myself with. I would be loved for how I always looked, and I could relish in that. I could live a life approved by others.
You probably see why this wouldn't work.
We don't live in a stasis. Stasis is the opposite of vitality.
Stasis is death.
I spent most of the week of March 9th, 2020 in a state of active fatigue.
I was riding the high of a post promotion, post travel life from the weeks before. The world seemed uncertain then, with some new virus going around, but it didn't feel like something I couldn't handle. I'd been through some shit before, this couldn't be all that different.
I woke up March 13th, feeling like death would be better than waking up.
It was a physical terror. It was an existential terror. To be a pioneering victim of the century's first pandemic.
I lay in bed for weeks, without the energy to stand, to eat, to shit, to put my attention to anything else but sleep.
My muscles hurt, my chest hurt, breathing hurt. I was so totally exhausted.
I felt, for the first time in my life, my body falling apart in front of my own eyes. I knew that however things turned out, I wouldn't be the same.
In the moments that I couldn't sleep, I pondered.
I questioned my life up to that point. I remembered the days, just weeks before, of boundless energy.
I remembered going for a run, in my home in New York, as a homage to the first beautiful day we had that winter.
I reflected on the walks, the runs, the sweaty work outs, the physically exciting moments where myself and my body got to experience being. The totality of immersion into action.
I remembered fearing, reading articles about people recovering, permanently debilitated. The multiple doctors I talked to offered me the choice assurances of "well we all really hope you don't die, just make sure you can breathe alright".
In my privilege of being able bodied, with no major health conditions, with access to a seemingly endless amount of calories, I'd never contemplated an alternate reality. One were I couldn't just do the things I wanted to do.
I reflected on the mentality that I had developed towards moving. It was a chore. It was work. It was something that given a choice, would rank after everything else on my list. I thought of it really as a means to satisfy my insecurities – not as something always pleasurable in of itself. I would strive to be healthy, not because I wanted to, but it was what culture told me was the right thing to do.
It realized it all was temporary. My life. My people. My abilities. Maybe I'd have them for as long as I lived. Maybe I'd lose them now. The coin was still in the air.
I resolved, that if I could get through this crisis, still able, I would yearn for, I would relish and cherish every day I got to move. I would move, not because I had to, or because it would get me to where I wanted to be:
I would move because I could.
On April 1st, 2020 I started moving again. It started with walk. Then a hike. A pose. A run. A swim. My body in all is potential, sometimes struggling, sometimes transcendent, but oh so capable of moving.
It's been 444 days of movement.
People often talk about how love is the meaning of life.
It only ever registered in the romantic sense for me, even though as a bold statement it seemed that it would have potential layers in its meaning.
I think the meanings are lost because English falls short. We use a single word to channel a plethora of feelings.
We can experience love in so many ways. Our friends make us feel love. A beautiful song makes us feel love. A kind complement can make us feel love. We can feel love in the things that we do. The places we see. The people we become.
I've wondered how much I've reached for expectations in moments of love. Where I've substituted presence with desire. Where I've left the love wayside as a means to preserve the sensation itself, abandoning the moment – the pleasure itself – for an empty yearning of permanence.
Love in a way, is the abandoning of those expectations, not because they are horrid or malicious, but because they are a distraction.
I fell in love with moving.
The play. The beautiful world I got to see. The sheer enjoyment of watching my body flounder. The exhilaration of the self push. The hormonal reward for being alive in all of its senses.
I wish I knew in my previous live what I know now:
Because you are alive. Because it's magical. Because you can.