Exercise for the Soul

Growing up, I never placed a huge priority on exercise. I was physically active as I discussed a few years ago in “Back” Home, but I was active because I enjoyed playing basketball, not because I was making a conscious healthy decision for physical fitness. I definitely wasn’t overweight as a child. On the contrary I was noticeably underweight. That trend continued through high school and even college. I attribute a lot of that to backyard basketball and other “kids just running around the neighborhood” activity – certainly not from me actively monitoring my weight.

It was probably during my second year of law school that I first truly noticed an expanding mid-section. I don’t know if it was coincidence or just cruel irony — it was about the same time that I noticed a thinning and receding hair line. Mind you, neither was out of control, but it was clear for the first time in my then 25 years that my physical activity was being outpaced by my caloric intake.

Following law school, and the desk job I’ve had in the nearly 25 years since then, a primarily sedentary lifestyle has become my reality. I’ve still generally been able to stave off any tremendous weight gain, but I am a far cry from the slim and slender physique of my youth. Maybe it is just the law of averages or the curse of middle age.

I was in my mid 30’s when my then fiancée talked me into getting a physical (not having been to a doctor with any regularity during my adult life). He put me on blood pressure medicine, but his answer to just about anything that ailed me was to “lose weight.” On several occasions, even before visiting this weight conscious doctor, I tried a couple of different diets hoping to avoid having to buy a larger sized pair of pants — with varying degrees of success. Yet my consistent reality over the past two decades has been the fact that I really could stand to drop about 20-25 pounds.

But let’s get one thing straight here. I like to eat and I like to eat things that taste good. One of the ways that my wife got her figurative hooks into me was by cooking creative cuisine and baking some decadently delicious desserts. In fact, a funny story that I still apologize for on a regular basis… Prior to our courtship, but at a time when I had apparently caught her eye – we were serving on a retreat team together at our church. During the team meetings my not-yet-girlfriend/not-yet-fiancée/not-yet-wife signed up on more than one occasion to bring the after-meeting snacks. She then slaved over chocolate covered tuxedo strawberries; upside down caramel apple pie; turtle fudge skillet cake; and tuxedo brownie cups. I only learned several years later that she was secretly watching at those meetings to see my reaction when I sunk my teeth into her creations. It was during that exact time period that I was religiously devoted to the no carb Atkins diet! She was repeatedly disappointed when week after week I ignored her exquisitely prepared desserts while all the others on the team scarfed them down like mad. These weren’t the store bought after-thought desserts that many people bring when it is their turn on the schedule. These were the end result of her hours and hours of prep and painstaking baking. She wasn’t aware at the time of the deep internal struggle I had each week in trying to resist the temptation of those fabulous looking desserts that I was dying to taste!

I eventually lost the weight I was shooting for at the time and ended my self-deprivation. In the 16+ years since, my weight has fluctuated by 25 or so pounds in one direction or the other. I’ve kept it in check, and still have a target I would like to achieve. But I refuse to deprive myself of my wife’s cooking and baking for the sole end of hitting a magic number on a scale. One thing I have done over the past several years was to increase my daily walking and reacquaint myself with the weight bench that had been sitting idle in my basement. Nearly two years ago, I made a commitment to 10,000 daily steps and three days a week on the weight bench. I had some ulterior motivation when I began my crusade for the daily 10,000. You can read about that motivation in another blog of mine here. I don’t have 100% achievement of either goal, but I am probably hitting the mid 90’s and my failures have usually been the result of either injury/illness or travel/vacation. The keys to successful exercise are: (1) to stop putting it off and just start; and (2) get into an established and sustained routine.

Last November, after much deliberation, my wife and I decided to join Planet Fitness. We were then just under one year away from our daughter’s wedding and we both hoped to shed a few pounds before the time came to be measured for a dress and tuxedo. With the onset of winter and the cold wind temperatures coming off of Lake Erie, my wife was not enthusiastic with the idea of walking outside. And the basement that houses my weight bench is my man cave and not for her use. It is literally like a cave – a wet basement with a strong musty odor (sometimes mixed with sewer odor) and many creepy crawlies that my wife would just prefer to not share space with. Last spring/summer/fall, I actually had a basement toad that I saw almost every time I went to the basement for a workout. He was around so often that I gave him a name. Tony. My wife would not be very fond of Tony.

So she decided her best option was to join a gym and I tagged on a membership for moral support. She has since taken to it like a fish to water. She signed up with a personal trainer and goes 5-6 days a week – usually before work when it is less crowded. I go along for the ride as moral support and usually spend 30-45 minutes myself on a treadmill. The most difficult part of that plan is that when she starts work at 6:30 in the morning: 45 minutes at the gym and time to clean up and get dressed for work makes for a very early alarm clock! But like I said above: “The keys to successful exercise are: (1) to stop putting it off and just start; and (2) get into an established and sustained routine.”

Let me switch gears here for just a moment. As you may know if you are reading this fresh (or can verify later when comparing it to a 2020 calendar) we have just entered the season of Lent. It is a time of introspective examination and self awareness. While many people give up something for Lent as a personal sacrifice, for me that is usually accompanied by the effort to “do something more” that I might not have otherwise done. In years past, one extra effort I have tried to commit to during Lent was to pray a daily rosary. I’m not going to lie. Sometime life gets in the way and I fall short on doing the things I should do for my spiritual health and well-being. Lent is probably the best time to reflect upon these shortcomings.

In the past, I would often descend into my man cave basement and tune the radio down there to the local Catholic radio station – WHRQ. Aside from my wife’s alarm clock, we don’t have any ‘tunable’ radios on the main floor. Every evening at 9:30, the Catholic radio station broadcasts a spiritual rendition of the rosary. I would pray along with the radio and many other Catholics throughout the diocese (and elsewhere, I suppose). As I prayed the rosary, I walked from one end of the basement to the other – past and around my musty weight bench a few dozens times getting in those last steps to reach 10,000 if I hadn’t already hit that mark for the day. At the close of Lent, I would often continue my daily 9:30 ritual, but was unable to do it every day. May and June would arrive and we would spend one weekend each month occupied with our daughter’s dance competition and recital. June would move into July and August and we often found ourselves enjoying the warm nights at Cedar Point – sometimes right up until the park’s closing time. So by late summer or early fall, my daily rosary had become a lost devotion. But always in the back of my mind, I knew that my spiritual exercise was just as important as my physical exercise.

So here we are in 2020, one week into Lent. The difference between this year and last is that with our earlier morning wake-ups to hit the gym, my evening bedtimes have necessarily shifted earlier as well. Coincidentally, bedtime often falls at or before the radio rosary time. I know that I do not need the radio prompting to pray a rosary. It is nice and I do prefer it with the introspective reflections and music that accompany it, but those are not necessary. Still, as of this morning, I had yet to pray a rosary this Lent.

Last night I went to Stations of the Cross and attended the first of a four part series by our pastor on the Face of Jesus and the Shroud of Turin. During that session, I found myself reminded of my [yet unfulfilled] commitment to pray a daily rosary. I returned home and promptly got caught up in some household chores and then had to check up on some work emails related to a hearing I was tasked to attend on Thursday morning. Bedtime soon came and morning followed: Morning workouts, delivery of our daughter to school, final hearing preparations, and an early drive to the courthouse in the next county.

I decided back on Ash Wednesday to retune my car radio back to WHRQ and I listened to the Catholic take on the news about the Presidential campaigns and the corona virus as I drove to my hearing. There is a small parking lot right next to the courthouse entryway, but for the past few years I’ve chosen to park in the street on the opposite side of the building. It was a conscious decision in order to get in more steps to and from my car each time I was at this location. Usually there were only a few spaces available on the street, but today my hearing was over an hour earlier than when I am usually here. There were many more choices of spaces to park. I chose a space (or someone above chose it for me). I exited my car and walked around to the other side to grab my suit coat and briefcase from the front passenger seat, when something metallic lying in the debris at the curb caught my eye. I wasn’t sure what it was initially, so I reached down and picked it up.

One of the outer pieces had broken off, but otherwise it was in fine condition. For anyone unfamiliar with what is in the photo, it is called a rosary ring and can be used as an alternative to a full beaded rosary. I could have pulled into any of a number of parking spaces – or I could have grabbed my jacket and briefcase from inside the car instead of walking around. In either scenario, I would have easily missed seeing it. The photos below are of the immediate space where I found it (after I picked it up, of course) and of my car (the gray Buick) from a distance showing how wide open the parking availability was for me to choose this particular spot.

I knew right away that I was being gently reminded of my non-committal commitment. I still know that it will be challenging to do the radio rosary daily and still get to sleep and wake up to join my wife’s morning workout, but both the body and the spirit need that daily exercise. Not to sound like a broken record here, but see again where I said above: “The keys to successful exercise are: (1) to stop putting it off and just start; and (2) get into an established and sustained routine.”

As I drove back home after the hearing, I heard three different advertisements on the radio for the “NEW” Annunciation Radio app, which I promptly installed on my smartphone once I was back connected to WiFi. In addition to many other features, the app has a listen live link, which I can use in conjunction with my newly found rosary ring on those nights when I am unable to walk a man cave basement radio rosary. Even as I am settling down for bed, I can now plug in my earbuds, don my rosary ring, and exercise my soul.

Was it a coincidence that I parked where I did and found the rosary ring reminder? Was it a coincidence that I was told three times that the radio station I like to use to listen and pray the rosary now has an app to make that even easier to do? Was it a coincidence that these both happened on the morning after I was feeling slightly guilty about not yet starting my spiritual exercise?

Praise God!!!

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