There is a machine in the weight room at the YMCA in Prescott. I’m not sure of its proper name, but it’s something like the Dip Machine. You stand on this platform, and you can lower yourself down and then push yourself back up; you can also do pull-ups on it. One day, feeling ambitious at the end of my regular workout, I did a few dips. I couldn’t do very many. It was really hard.
I got in the car. About halfway home, I suddenly began to feel very uncomfortable. I think I said something repeatedly, along the lines of, “Oh, God, ohGodohGodohGod.” I had the most unwelcome simultaneous thoughts that, one, I really needed a bathroom and two, I wasn’t going to make it. Yes, apparently on the Dip Machine I had pushed hard enough to activate the entire contents of my colon. The motto of the University of Arizona Wildcats football team is, “Bear Down.” They should reconsider this. Bearing down doesn’t always produce a harmonious outcome.
My life didn’t flash before my eyes, but I did acutely remember an unfortunate moment from fifth grade. We had an “open concept” school building, with classes separated by portable dividers all facing a central open space. Now, this open concept – so desirable on every single HGTV show – offers zero privacy. The restroom doors were on view from every classroom. In this particular flashback, I was running for my life, trying hard not to throw up. All I could see was the big, dark gray, metal wastebasket propping open the girls’ bathroom door. I didn’t even think about making it inside the actual bathroom; all of my concentration, my focus, my life force – my chi, perhaps, maybe my chakras – zeroed in on that metal wastebasket. I telescoped. I was in a Hitchcock movie, maybe “Vertigo,” running down a long hall that kept getting longer; at the end, glowing like the Holy Grail, was this trashcan. I achieved my goal, puked my guts out, and only afterward realized, to my horror, that everyone in our whole side of the school had seen me do it. The shame!
Flash forward to that white-knuckle trip home from the YMCA: I’m simultaneously pressing the accelerator in my car and the brakes in my lower digestive system, doing every possible Kegel exercise I could remember from after childbirth. I telescoped: this time, it wasn’t a glowing wastebasket, but a blindingly alabaster, porcelain toilet at the end of that long, dark hall; maybe angels were singing “Hallelujah” above its radiance. Thank God, I made it, and thereby spared the possibly leather interior of my Honda Pilot from enduring a supreme violation. All was well.
But here’s the thing: actually, if the worst had happened, all would have been well, too, eventually. Crises like this are bumps in the road, and I’m of the opinion that obstacles and bumps are supposed to come along every now and then. (Note: I’m not talking about serious illness here, or trying to trivialize human suffering in any way. Those are completely different subjects from the speed bumps mentioned above.)
The human body is the great leveler. I’m writing about this now because as our country seems so polarized, maybe we should all take a minute to remember that we’re all in the same boat. Well, the same basic frame.
We’ve all stubbed our toe, dinged our knee, and had bad hair days (or years). Who hasn’t desperately needed a Kleenex when there wasn’t one and just had to sniff mightily? Who hasn’t checked the mirror and noticed a fragment of spinach or broccoli right there on a front tooth, and wondered two things: how long THAT has been there, and why didn’t anybody tell you?
The human body keeps us humble. Sure, some of us are better preserved than others, some of us have let ourselves go more than others, some of us have paid for some upgrades, and some of us can afford really high maintenance. For example: Today’s news featured the hard-hitting story that Leonardo DiCaprio flew an Australian “eyebrow-artist to the stars” to Los Angeles right before the Oscars. This artist’s services, according to her website, include: “… any tints, stains, or lightening required in conjunction with your full expert shaping. Included is an eyelash tint as well as a glycolic infused collagen eye treatment plus a full heated paraffin hand treatment followed by a light eye makeup application.”
No wonder these people look good! And far be it from me to judge anyone for anything he or she does to enhance his or her appearance; you do you, I say. At the same time, this shows how dumb it is to measure ourselves by how models or movie stars look. It’s not real, people! Even if it’s not airbrushed, it’s tinted and shaped!
Inside, they’re just as messed up as everybody else, maybe even more so. Because, again: deep down, we’re all the same. I’m pretty sure we were designed to be that way, so that when we hear about someone experiencing a migraine, or indigestion, or hemorrhoids, or a broken hip, or something a lot worse – a heart attack, cancer, or pneumonia – we can empathize and maybe even reach out to that person. Maybe we’ve been there, too.
Whatever our differences are, we’re all stuck in the same fragile, time-stamped, unpredictable, basic model of a human body.
Which brings us to Proverbs. The same day I read the eyebrow artist story, I read Proverbs for the day; it was the 27th, so I read Chapter 27, and two verses caught my eye. The first: “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” The second: “Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds, for riches do not last forever; and does a crown endure to all generations?”
Those spoke to me for some reason, and I think it’s just to remind me not to get caught up in the sound and fury of noise, politics, and drummed-up agitation because really, it doesn’t matter a bit in the long run. We need more flock-tending and more compassion for each other.
Also, avoid the Dip Machine, I’m just saying.
©Janet Farrar Worthington