When I first had kids, exercise became the Sole Protected Hour in my day. Although I was on call around the clock with breastfeeding, peek-a-booing, and tushie wiping,
when I was out for a run or at the gym, my time was my own, uninterrupted by others’ needs.
I became so vehement about not disrupting the integrity of Exercise Hour that I hid from friends who would call and leave messages like, “Hey, do you want to go for a run tomorrow?” or “We should get together and go canoeing!” Even when I did return the messages, I hemmed and hawed my way into an excuse, like how my hands and feet had fallen off. Temporarily.
No matter what I said out loud, my unspoken answer to them went, “I like you very, very much. And I haven’t seen you in ages. Oh, yes, we should get together. But I have zero, zip, zilch interest in having my one personal hour of the day hijacked by socializing with you. I can’t tell you how tired I am; I can’t tell you how much I covet the time to explore my own psyche while my feet are moving. So. back. off. Mortimer.”
Even now that the kids are older, and I have more and more hours for myself, it’s still never enough. I still don’t have an urge to hook up with a pack of friends for a big trail run. In fact, if I’m out for a trail run and encounter someone I know, my gut reaction is a thundering, “Ah, damn. Here I was, in the midst of a perfectly good restoration, and now I have to ask about your doggie.”
Admittedly, I am a cretin. I yuvs the peoples, but not when they get near Jocelyn’s Head Time.
What’s more, I would argue that any forward thinking I’ve done in the last decade has happened with body in motion. When I return home from sweating, my husband knows enough to grab the counter and push his feet into the floor firmly, creating a solid anchor, before asking, “So. What’d you think about on your run?” The ensuing flood of ideas and plans could drown a less-experienced sailor. On an easy day, my post-run storm consists of a menu plan for the week. On a whopper of a day, I rain down evaluations of why human beings do what they do and how $20,000 a month for senior care is unconscionable and how I’ve figured out a way to position my brain so that I can get through 25 more years of career and why Kenyans are such master strategists at marathoning and how life in an urban center probably has more bonuses than drawbacks and how I never can figure out how to get a bike onto the front of the city bus and how the renters behind us have really done well with neighborhood etiquette but they do seem to be smoking more and more out back and…
some other stuff.
Certainly, I grab at Exercise Hour (or two) every single day. My mental health–and the wellbeing of my family–depend on it. Some days, though, I need the hour more than others. Some days, getting outside and letting my brain cross-connect with itself and flow upwards, outwards, under and through, is like, well,
like going to church. It’s my time of mulling, of questioning, of stepping back to see larger meanings. It’s my time of prayer.
This past weekend, my innards demanded a visit to the church.
And, yes, I realize that last sounds like a strange euphemism for needing to void my bowels. If you must know, though, I’ve recently gotten the family using a different euphemism for that act. We say, “I need to go visit Dr. Daniel P. Dock now.” The origin of this euphemism is convoluted, but it stems back to the kids and me walking home from brunch the other week and one of us suddenly needing to do some voiding just as we were in front of a chiropractor’s office. You might be able to guess the name of the chiropractor. If you guessed something that rhymes with Octer Faniel D. Crock, I recommend you drive down to headquarters and register yourself with Savants ‘R Us exactly right now.
Anyhow, last weekend, after months of laborious, tedious, patient, watchful, diplomatic, carefully-worded, cautious, enthusiastic communication with the family in Sicily with whom we have intended to exchange homes next year…
and after sitting quiet for over two weeks, waiting for the next deeply-deliberated message from their end, hoping to hear even one response to the four questions I’d sent to them in March…
I realized I’d hit at the point where patience was starting to feel foolhardy. Certainly, with each contact we’ve had, we have felt increasingly convinced the family is working from their end and plodding through their own process. Despite the long silences, it has felt like a good faith agreement. It’s just that, well, I’ve been needing a bit more assurance–maybe the occasional check-in about what they’ve been doing to get the exchange moving forward.
See, with the visa process on our end, I have been needing to get a plane ticket so I can go to Chicago so I can get my visa so I can give a Power of Attorney to the Sicilian father so he can go to a police station and get me declared a resident so I can invite my husband and children to accompany me so they can start their own visa process, which takes up to 90 days, just for their piece.
To get a plane ticket, I’ve needed at least a ballpark for when we’d like to travel so’s I could book a ticket. That was one of my four questions, a question I’d asked the Sicilians two months ago, as well.
In the face of my query, there were weeks of silence. Then a “Oh, we hadn’t realized you needed to take in a ticket to get your visa; our visas will take about 3 days here, so we haven’t been worried.” Fair enough. Then we learned that they’ve been trying to hammer out details of having their teenaged son do a semester in the U.S. and then return to live with an aunt for the rest of the school year.
This past weekend, my innards felt distinct discomfort. Not the Imodium AD kind, either.
Rather, my innards felt like it was time to get things moving or reconsider the whole plan. I believe, in Dr. Daniel P. Dock Imodium terms, we call that “time to shit or get off the pot.” Clearly, the Dr. doesn’t shy away from frank language; he became inured to it in medical school during the semester when he dissected a human corpse (which he named Humbert Humbert).
My thought, then, was that I would take into my own hands the pieces of this sabbatical journey that I could. I’d book a refundable ticket for, um, er, July 8th, and I’d plan to head to Chicago next week, if I could get an appointment through the consulate booking line ($2.49 per minute!). I was resolved to push the plan to action.
Twelve seconds after this resolution, an email hit our Inbox. It was from a family in Prague. Who is
How attractive that suddenly seemed. But how much time and effort we’d invested into good relations with the Sicilian family, which, themselves, had put in time and effort. We did feel like something was happening there, with them, and that it wouldn’t be right to jump ship.
Muddle, muddle, muddle.
By the end of that day, I knew only two things with conviction : I needed good beer, and I needed a good long walk. Strapping a backpack on, I marched for 62 minutes to the liquor store and aimed by body towards the Surly Beer shelf. Surly is made in Minnesota by gifted brewing angels (a splinter sect from the bread-baking angels) who are also, in their Midwestern fashion, able to turn out a respectable tuna casserole littered with potato chips.
The best of the Surly brews is one called Furious. For that one, the angels cut off their wings and shred them into a vat, where they decompose for four months, ultimately morphing into a richly-hopped beer that serves as the cornerstone of my Personal Communion.
After walking 62 minutes, however, and aiming my self towards the Surly shelf, I had a wonderfully ridiculous moment of staring into a long, empty tunnel inside the freezer case.
The Furious was sold out.
Fortunately, these last months of communicating with Italians have trained me in “Now that we know what we don’t have, let’s take stock of what we do have” thinking. Looking to either side of Furious Alley, I noted that Surly’s other fine beers, the Cynic and the Bender, were rep-reee-senting.
Grabbing a four-pack of pint cans of each, I checked out, loaded up my backpack, and started the walk home, this time accompanied by the clanking of several pounds of liquid comfort.
While I walked, the light of the day fell away, as did my agitations. Listening to a podcast of “Fresh Air,” I swooned to the articulate intelligence of historian Tony Judt, a man who’s been living with ALS for the last few years. During my time of evening worship, he delivered the sermon.
He described, in concert with the sound of the respirator that helps him breathe, that although his body feels locked in a coffin, although he fights through every darkened night wide awake, alone, wishing he could scratch his itches, although he wishes to die when he can no longer speak,
he has much to live for. He writes through dictation; he spends time with his wife and children; he has created a Swiss chalet in his mind, and through the long hours of enforced solitude that govern his days, he deposits his thoughts on the imaginary living room couch…in the kitchen drawer…in the bed upstairs, where they await his return and retrieval.
Judt’s cement life met with my moving life in the dusk, under a cathedral of birches, and I felt my insides re-align.
I walked; he talked; I listened; he taught me. I felt elevated by prayer.
Indeed, I would call the Italian Consulate appointment line on Monday. I would email the Sicilians one more time, to pin down their thinking.
But in that moment, with cold beer marking a spot on my lower back, with a few deer jumping across the path in front of me, with a vastly wise voice filling my ears, I inhaled a deep breath of pine
and took the next step towards home.
Monday afternoon post-script: we received an email today from the Sicilian father, explaining that the meeting with their teenaged son’s school didn’t go at all well and that he will receive no credit for any work done in the U.S. They are frustrated and confused and have urged us to explore any other options we may have. Two minutes after reading this news, I hit reply to the Prague family and may have scared them all the way to Ukraine with my enthusiasm about a possible exchange.