I’ve always tried to be honest about everything written on this blog. Admittedly, a fair share of it is legitimately a form of therapy. My way of processing reality and dealing with challenges. And of course, pondering the aging process. I simply hope people can relate.
The photo above was taken probably ten years ago. I was in the midst of a solid year of cycling, which for me entailed riding between 2500 and 3000 miles. At the end of a long summer day, I sat down to relax on the living room sofa and noticed the July sun striking my body as it streamed through the large bay window on the west side of the house.
My legs looked strong and fit. Muscled even. They were shaved and tan, even shiny with a fitness glow. I took a photo to record that moment because I knew that youthfulness would not last forever. The purity of the moment.
I took the photo below this morning. It’s a bit more somber image. The skin of my legs has aged with time. I still shave my legs for cycling because it still feels right to do so. But it isn’t as smooth as it once was. There’s still a bit of self-adulation in the process. I’ll admit that. Vanity. Clinging to a self-image built over the years.
But things are clearly changing. The skin of my legs is getting that crepey look. They’ve absorbed a ton of sun over the years. That’s understandable given the 50,000 miles of running I’ve done in a forty year career. Add in tens of thousands of miles of cycling, and I can’t blame my legs for looking a bit older than they did at 52 years old versus now, within a month of my sixty-third birthday.
The funny thing about those legs is that they haven’t necessarily slowed down or weakened all that much from ten years ago. This past weekend I rode 63 miles with my wife Suzanne. We averaged 19.5 mph for the distance. Some of it was in strong crosswinds and headwinds, and that long bit at the end was flying along with a tailwind. It still takes pedal power to make your bike go 30 mph even with the wind behind you. Just lake week I also dropped my run pace to 7:00 per mile to close out a four-miler.
And my brain actually works better than eve. I can promise you that. Some aspects of aging actually clear the senses.
Granted, there are some things you can’t change about aging. The years catch with your body eventually. I see it most in my face on a daily basis. The hollows and wattles and wrinkles and crow’s feet surprise (even depress) me sometimes. So I try to smile a ton in public and social situations. A smile at least makes you feel younger. And no one likes a dour old man.
It is a battle for everyone against time when it comes to body image. For me, the rim of pudge on my belly bothers me deeply. Yet I still like my body now as much as any point in my life. That’s a healthy thing in general, an idea celebrated in Walt Whitman’s epic poem Song of Myself:
Showing the best and dividing it from the worst age vexes age,
Knowing the perfect fitness and equanimity of things, while they discuss I am silent, and go bathe and admire myself.
Welcome is every organ and attribute of me, and of any man hearty and clean,
Not an inch nor a particle of an inch is vile, and none shall be less familiar than the rest.
Why should we not continue this sensuous journey through all of life? Why should we deny ourselves the thrill of going fast, or other things, if we feel it good to do so? Or to go slow, limbs wrapped around limbs, and loving so?
I’ve always been known for quoting my favorite line from the book Ambiguous Adventure by Cheik Hamidou Kane.
The purity of the moment is made from the absence of time.
And so it ever shall be, hopefully.