Blow winds and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!
You cataracts and hurricanes, spout
Til you have drenched our steeples, drown’d the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity of the world!
Act III, Scene II, “The Tragedie of King Lear,” William Shakespeare
Not into Shakespeare? Before you completely give him up as a lost cause, watch “Slings and Arrows,” a Canadian series. One of the writers is a “Kids in the Hall” alum, and it’s smart and funny. Even the “not-crazy-about-Shakes” folks in our little group found they could like him.
So why the Shakespeare quote? Because it popped into my head last night when I lay down in my bed and felt my right shoulder decide that it was not going to be happy in its current position, and after trying to rearrange myself without waking up my husband, I felt tears of sheer frustration filling my eyes and watering my eyelashes. I wanted to howl into the wind, and then Lear’s famous speech popped into my head.
The setup for the speech could take quite a lot of space; after all, it is from the third act. The down and dirty is that King Lear, because of his own vanity, fatigue, arrogance or impending dementia, decides to retire by dividing up his kingdom among his three daughters. The youngest (and the only one who actually gives a damn), Cordelia, refuses to play along with her father’s method of deciding who gets what, which is to flatter the old man effusively, telling him how much you love him. So her two older, evil sisters get the kingdom between them and poor Cordelia is cast out. The other sisters then scheme to get Dad out of the pictures as much as possible.
At the point of the speech, Lear has run out into the night into the woods, provoked by his two elder daughters, who have taken away his pride (they’ve already got his money and power) and exposed themselves for the lousy human beings they are. And Lear screams into the storm that breaks upon him before finally allowing himself to be cajoled inside a hovel for shelter.
Lear was shaking his fist at the storm, yelling at it to do all it could to him and to the world around him. Why? Well, there are many scholars who’d be able to defend a dissertation on the subject, but I’m going to take a stab at it myself.
This is an old man who realizes the depth of his mistake and is stuck in a hell of his own making. He screams at the wind and thunder, challenging them to do their worst, not caring if the storm destroys everything about him. Why not? He’s lost his family, his possessions, his dignity, so who cares what the storm does?
But Lear is not a victim. He voluntarily ran out into the damn storm. Lear set into motion the chain of events that ended up with him out in the night with no shelter. And I think that as the storm hit, he realized that he was no longer in control of things and that he was being destroyed as a result of his own decisions. So, when the storm blows in, he blows up, letting all his anger at himself and his circumstances clash with the elements.
Last night, I could relate to that. My last three days of workouts have been a bit choppy. Yesterday should have been my rest day, but I ended up taking two days off in a row because I had a migraine the day after my last rest day. I had a touch of it still when I worked out the first day, but by the end of it, I was feeling better. The next day, I quit halfway through my pushups to report to Coach Gary that I was getting a sharp pain in my right shoulder — it didn’t hurt except during certain motions. I dropped almost all the lifting for the last two rounds of exercises. It irritated me, but not too much.
And then yesterday. I was looking forward to the workout, which was kind of novel; it’s a battle most days to go change clothes and then another battle to force myself to put on my shoes and yet another skirmish to get off my hiney-ho and start working out.
So I jump on the treadmill, do my 10 minutes on the thing and head out to the garage for the day’s challenges. Gary starts off with “Okay, I want you go do these as fast as you can and really push yourself.” Being well-trained in the art of taking things the wrong way, I want to know if he didn’t think I’d been pushing myself all along. And what about form? I lose form when I speed up too much and I don’t want to get injured.
He met all my objections: No, this is not a comment on any other workout, I just want to push yourself and go as fast as you can. I think he’s trying to be encouraging, but I wish I could tune him into my internal dialogue sometimes, which is filled with me reviewing all the instructions for every move and yelling at myself to “Keep going.”
I got through the first round, but near the end of the second, when I went to do the push press, I pulled up like a lame horse. My left ankle started screaming at me. It was sharp, and kept getting worse. I tried to put my weight on it and almost fell down, so Gary put his arm around me, took me inside the house, and kindly set up the ice wrap for the ankle.
I was pissed. I didn’t get to do the workout, and cascades of pain were now being set off by the ankle. My calves hurt (although they seemed better after rolling them), my butt already hurt from sitting in a computer chair for too long, my feet were swollen and my neck hurt. But it wasn’t until I went to bed and could not find a comfortable position that my own storm broke.
Is it too late? Did I screw up so bad in the last 30 years that it’s beyond hope? Am I going to manage to injure myself to the point I can’t exercise? Am I going to ever lose the damned, thrice- and quadruple-damned weight?
Or is it past the time of hope? Am I doomed to live out the rest of my life as a semi-invalid because I was too stupid or pig-headed to adopt healthier habits and, most damningly, willfully blind of the consequences.
So why didn’t some ghost of fat girls past visit me? She could have shown up around some holiday set aside for stuffing yourself full of food, prove to me I’d messed up and give me a way out. But no. No nighttime haunts by repentant ghosties. Just my own screaming into the wind.
I cannot undo what I’ve done. I can’t turn back time, as I so desperately wish I could, and turn myself back into a 20- or 30-year-old woman with minimal weight gain and a chance to get my fitness under control. I weighed 130 pounds the day I graduated from law school in 1989. I’d had both my children. I should have started exercising then, but “I didn’t have time.” I want to go back and punch my younger self in the face for that. I blew the opportunity to get it together while I was young, before I had accumulated so many injuries and diseases that when I hurt one ankle, every other body part wants to compete for my attention.
Yesterday night, I got a cramping, sharpish pain in my right leg that I thought was going to kill me. Last night, I had a whining shoulder and burning knees, as well as the sensitive Achilles tendons. It’s a chorus of furies, and they want me to go back to stop trying to fix the past.
It would be so much easier to give up. To throw my hands up and say, “Well, I tried, but even my wrists were in pain. It’s never going to happen because it’s taking too long and I keep verging on injury. I’m going to hurt myself sooner or later, so I might as well quit before it happens.”
What I’m screaming into the storm is “You idiot, Jodi, why the hell didn’t you do something about this sooner? Been a better role model? Been preparing for getting old?”
Maybe that’s part of it; I never really planned for getting old (long story, that). When I was 14, I was convinced I wouldn’t live past 30. When I was 30, I didn’t think I’d see my 50th. And here I have passed all those milestones, and I know that I’ve procrastinated myself into a ball of fat with a little muscle tissue and bone that are stressed out because I keep making so many demands on them … new demands, demands my body isn’t used to dealing with.
But I don’t have many options. I can keep trying to get out of this hole, or I can give up and be a prisoner of my past choices.
The problem is that I don’t know if the choice is mine anymore. Have I now come to the point where I’ve run out into the storm with no shelter and no way to stay dry and safe, left only with the possibility that I’m going to be struck by lightning or die of exposure or starvation?
Lear is a tragedy, which, if you’ve read any of Shakespeare’s tragedies you already know, generally means lots of carcasses by the end. But although all life inevitably ends in death, the death need not be premature, nor does aging have to be a misery. I think I’ll risk the lightning pains over the slow atrophy of muscles. I keep telling myself (and everyone else) that changing my life is as much a mind game as it is anything, and screaming futility at the elements, challenging them to condemn me, isn’t a good way to play the game.
Instead, I think I’ll try to get armed with a little more knowledge about my physiology, keep taking the progress up slowly, take time to heal and listen to my wonderful coach, who keeps telling me to be patient. Patience? Hmm. Guess that’s another life change I’m going to have to integrate into the program.
Curses, storm of my own making. I’ll endure your wind and rain and hail and whatnot. Storms pass even more quickly than lives, and although recent events have shown just how much debris they can leave in their path, restoration is always possible as long as you have breath within you. Not easy, not quick, but possible with a whole lot of effort and even more patience.