Thursday, January 17, 2013

How to Grow Up

He’d spent a lot of his life wishing he was stronger, a lot of life trying to be stronger: will was a muscle to be grown through exercise. Reluctance, a weakness to be overcome. He wanted a muscular soul.

It seems like he used the body as a metaphor for his psyche. Everyone knows what it means to be physically strong. Having a strong body means lots of muscles and lots of power vis-a-vis physics: you can lift heavy objects against pull of gravity, you can tear phonebooks in half despite the chemical bonds holding the glue and paper together. And you can do it without a lot of planning or skill: we talk about “brute strength” as distinct from grace or dexterity.

“Just do it.”

“No pain, no gain.”

He wanted a muscular soul, a self that could do anything without a whole lot of planning or skill or management or thought. He wanted thoughtless strength: like a locomotive, he wanted to ignore and blast-through all obstacles. Self-management was for pussies.

Somewhat older, he smiles ruefully at his younger self, like, “Really? Was that necessary?” He gets enough sleep. He schedules meals. He flosses. Instead of strength he just wants balance: he tries to act as a caregiver, and to regard himself as a ward. He avoids pain when he can, and when he can’t, he takes it in small doses and gives himself breaks. He’s proud for different reasons, now. He still exercises, but stops when it hurts. For the most part he no longer yearns for the machismo maturity of having seen everything, of laughing at pain, of never being surprised; and he’s reconciled to the tiny piece of him that still dreams that way, managing it like a difficult child or neighbor. It’s corny, but he’s allowed himself to love himself the same way he loves his mother. He’s no longer selfless.

He thinks he’s on the right track.

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