I have recently begun running.
The change comes after a series of quiet revelations that led me to the conclusion that I did not want to be the guy wanly occupying a coffin in a borrowed kilt after a heart attack at age 53.
The first of my revelations came, as so many of my spiritual moments do, while I was watching The Simpsons. At my heaviest, I realized, I was the same weight as Homer’s lightest. In America, this is apparently “funny fat.” Despite internal objections that cartoons don’t wear their weight the same as I do, the coincidence was a personal blow. I had weathered the fat jokes from friends, family, and foes, but it was Fox TV that caused me to squeeze into a new mental mold.
A second revelation came at my local thrift store, when I discovered there was not a single shirt in the mammoth mall of secondhand-sweatshop clothing that could fit me. I left the store dejected, feet dragging along the sidewalk, careful not to scuff my jeans for fear they might need to be replaced.
The final revelation came on an airplane. While it might be true that coach seats are shrinking, my size reality hit me: With the seat before me tilted back, the table tray did not fit comfortably in front of me. Since then, I have resigned myself to knocks from airline service carts as I hang over in the aisle, trying not to oppress my neighbor.
My weight is no longer temporary or cute. At one time, it was “Give Brenton the last steak—he’s a big boy.” Now, people offer me dandelion salad and sideways glances. My metabolism is simply not as vibrant as it once was. I used to be able to lose 10 pounds while I slept. I could eat what I wanted, play what sports I wanted, and there was always energy and room for more. One of the results of growing up, however, is aging, and the joys and pains and migrating muscle mass that inevitably come.
I have tried changing in the past. So far, each moment invested in the dream of size L shirts and a “trimmer-than-Homer” physique has been met with failure.
And this failure has driven me into a kind of secrecy that is at least eccentric, if not borderline insane. For six months now, I have been going to a gym. Nobody knew; I paid with cash and hid the membership card. Two or three times a week, while my wife was at work and the neighbor’s kids were down for a nap, I would wear my most unathletic clothing and sneak out to the gym. I biked, rowed, lifted weights—the safe, non-jock equipment—before sneaking back home. I even bought new running shoes, which I would put back in the box after each trip so that they wouldn’t look used. I even managed to start eating a little less without anyone being the wiser.
But I haven’t lost weight, at least not enough to give back the kilt I borrowed or book another discount flight.
The problem, I decided, was the kind of activity I did at the gym. Smooth resistance cardio and a few weight routines might make me a little healthier, loosen up my back, and keep me at the same weight, but they don’t get my heart pumping. I need that gasping, flushed, sweaty, large-man-bobbing-on-the-treadmill, heart-pounding-in-a-rattling-rib-cage kind of exercise. I need to run.
And so I ran.
I put on the most athletic-looking clothing I had hidden in the closet. I took out my shoes and threw away the box. I opened up the door, I waved at the neighbor and her kids, and I ran off into the brilliant afternoon sun. I made it eight blocks, two-thirds of a mile, before collapsing in dry heaves on the living room floor. It was wonderful.
There are lots of reasons to lose weight, but most of all I want to be free. For whatever reason, we live in a world where abuse of something we love means losing that thing. And I love food. I am troubled by the idea of losing great varieties of fruits, fresh breads, spicy pasta dishes, and my yearly ritual of a $10 steak cooked to perfection in my backyard. I loathe the idea of going to a pub only to have a virgin water with a leaf of lettuce instead of a burger with the works, Caesar salad, and the house draught.
So I am choosing freedom. And in choosing freedom, I am choosing to face the world with the great possibility that I might fail. It means choosing to tell my wife, my friends, and my family that I am trying to live a little healthier, and facing the likelihood that I may still be a 2X next Christmas. But I choose to live in a moment other than now, to live in a frame of mind other than fear, secrecy, and insecurity, and to live with the hope of a life filled with steaks, plums, and beer.
Therefore, I choose to run.
Reprinted from Geez (Summer 2010), a playful yet profound Canadian magazine that specializes in “holy mischief in an age of fast faith.”www.geezmagazine.org