First Things First

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There Comes a Time


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There comes a time in every bomber’s life when he must review his passion for the iron, its worth and the toll it’s taking on his body, mind and time. He, or she, is usually bedridden by this point, and spoon-fed, but lucid enough to tell the attendant to put another five on each side of the bar and give a hand-off... on three. Counting to three is the hard part.

The eternal riddle: What comes first, our last gasp for air or our last set of dumbbell inclines? 

I was talking to a 20-year-old who has all the earmarks of a here-today, gone-tomorrow musclebuilder -- sleeves rolled up on pipe-stem arms, permanently flexed lats and loads up the bench press, moving it with a huge arch, bounce, groan and assistance from two weary spotters. He swaggers. He plans to build his body through the spring and keep it forever, like a hotrod or a show car. Lots of chrome, polish and flash. No zoom.

His days are numbered. He doesn’t know it; he’ll never know it. Time will come and go and he’ll be gone. I asked him the double-edged question above and he answered, “I don’t do dumbbell inclines, too stinkin’ hard to get the weights in place.”

I agreed.

Today’s my day off from the wilds of the gym and the rest of the world -- I lie low in my lair and let my mind wander. This can be dangerous. Last time I let my mind wander it was gone for two days before it came back, an exhausted hound dog with fleas. I have no way of knowing where it goes or what it does. It thrives on curiosity, wonder, daydreams and chasing its tail.

Oddly, I miss the gym. Yesterday, as I traveled the freeway en route to the awaiting piles of steel, I wished I was in custody, under sedation or lost in the Amazon... anything, anywhere, but the gym. Today, under no obligation or threat of heavy metal, I feel lost.

Workouts are tough, painful and demanding, if they’re serious, and the anticipation preloads the back and mind. Ah, but the play of lifting weights, the fulfillment of focused exertion and the reward of a completed training session are priceless, incomparable and uplifting.

I’ll lie low. The feeling will pass in less than 10 seconds.

Occasionally I’ll get an email from a rambunctious wingman who, at 40 and under the iron for years, vows to take the weights to his fiery grave. Bombers, it appears, have no fear of death, convinced they’ll conquer the final condition with the power and audacity acquired through overcoming gravity. We joke, exaggerate, our minds wander and we dream on.

Of course, we who have spent long hours with the weights in various forms -- long bars and short, thick bars and bent, pulley systems and machines -- know of different times. We recall those indelible moments when the cold iron scorched the hand that touched it, wrenched the shoulder connected to that hand and sent pain and doubt through the whole body, causing its foundations to crumble like clay. Injury is a cruel and effective instructor. Plateaus, envy, frustration, boredom and sacrifice: Difficult lessons summon us forward.

I believe it’s the daily day-by-day encounter with the clanking and pushy musclebuilding elements that etches the deepest lines in the body and psyche. Daily stands alone. Daily suggests living and learning, routine and persistence, struggle and enduring.

And though these states-of-being are our familiar escorts and stabilizers, they also attempt to imprison us, break us down and cause us to give in. Confine a man and he begins to doubt himself. The clanging of plates, like the dripping of water in silence, will have him toss and turn and desperately seek relief.

Daily must be formed, molded and fit into the worthy and important, the interesting and fascinating. This is done not with the hands only, but also the ever-powerful mind, which shapes the future as we assimilate the day, the present, the here and now -- the iron and steel moments. Here the work is applied, the toil endured, the challenges met and the struggles won and lost.

Thank heaven work is not without satisfaction, toil is not without reward and challenge – one more rep, one more pound -- is not without gain. Winning and losing are difficult to separate; knowing them is the prize.

Here is where we leave the foothills and encounter the mountain. How high can we go, bombers? Proceed with caution. There are rocks and crevices and ravines, the air is thin and it’s a long way down.
 
Bombers are a creative and fascinating bunch. Give them some air, a pair of wings and they’re aloft.

Thank God. It’s all good.

The Bomber


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