We Are in This Together

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It was Monday morning and I was slouched at my desk, poking with my fork at an open can of sardine filets. Been a long time since these little guys splashed around in the ocean, I thought. I gave myself a D for posture, sat up and arched my back into a tight contraction. Feels good to straighten, stretch and contract.

Sardines are good for you, did you know that? Omega-3 oil, high in protein, no carbs, smelly and not too appetizing. I like the crunchy little bones. Oops! Slouching again, another D. What time is it, anyway?

Time for another cup of coffee.

I wonder if coffee and sardines are a bad mix. I know they're not a good mix, like tuna and water, but are they bad? You know, like, do they produce enzyme malfunctions or corrupt hormonal activity when they're combined? Is the protein neutralized by the caffeine or do the omega-3s turn rancid and become triglycerides?

Coffee and Danish pastry go well together. I love Danish pastry. I haven't had a piece of Danish since I was a kid living at home...sixteen, maybe. I wonder if it tastes the same. Huh, nearly sixty years with no Danish.

Still raining. Going on three weeks. It's been raining for so long, I'm getting into it. The world gets small. The darkness and the haze limit the distance you can see and the blue sky is gone, cloaked in grey and brooding clouds. You go out only when you must, to run errands, go to work, the gym, church -- wherever -- and you mostly look down, or from the underside of an umbrella if you're with your wife or girlfriend.

Guys don't use umbrellas, unless they're business guys, which I am not. No wingtips and knee-high socks, though I do have a couple of ties and a jacket somewhere.

The indoors is where it's at. The crackling, flickering hearth is the center of attraction, with me feeding the fire according to its appetite. It's warm, comfortable, alluring, hopeful and alive. Homemade soups and stews nourish the body, heal the wounds and soothe the spirit.

Shelter takes on new meaning and I'm grateful to be living, breathing, working and protected.

The gym too, always a refuge, becomes a special place in the winter. It's good to mingle, hear our voice among other voices and bear the struggle of unkind and peculiar weather with like creatures -- friends, indeed. Between sets we peer at the rain and, if a door is open, inhale the fresh wet air. Very nice.

Don't gaze too long, though. You don't want to lose your rhythm or body warmth or pump or concentration or favorite bench. The rain's nice, but not that nice.

Fewer people make it to the gym when the winter weather moves in. Traffic slows down, wet clothing, hair and feet are uncomfortable, and, like I said, the world becomes small.

And inconvenient. The gym seems far away -- into a hooded slicker, out the front door, beyond the gloom, through the downpour, puddles and mud and across the flooded intersections. Cars are slipping and sliding, and who can see out the windshield in weather like this? It's confusing and messy. Wipers and heaters and defrosters work overtime. The carwash is empty. So are the swings, barbeque pits, street corners, park benches and jogging paths.

A little lonely, you can feel it. Just you and yourself.

Ah! But in the gym there's a good group: serious, dedicated, appreciative -- industrious, willing and able. They're getting their money's worth, investing in their health, wasting no time and increasing their personal wealth. They're working out. This is entertainment at its best -- beneficial, exclusive and confidential.

Nothing like a little active privacy and treasure hunting on a rainy day, that's what I always say. It may or may not cross their minds, but somewhere in their consciousness they know they are where they belong, safe and sound and dry and pumped, and it's teeming outside. The black afternoon sky is emptying itself while they're doing chins and bent-over rows.

The power could go out, lightning could strike or the forceful wind could blow off the roof, yet there they are, the intrepid few.

How much you lift isn't as important as the very fact that you're lifting in the powerful and secure confines of the darn-near-sacred gym. You move the iron with a different effort that arises from a palette of multiple strengths, desires and needs. Desire is the predominant factor affecting the shape and outcome of the action before you.

The music and clang and shuffling bodies don't compete with the hush that prevails. The symptoms of the weather have become almost endearing and penetrate the edges of mind and soul. We need the rain, the water that gives life.

You might find a corner of the gym to practice side-arm lateral raises. For me, this once-favorite shoulder movement was relegated to the exercise junkyard after a dumb accident disconnected my right infraspinatus, an important rotator cuff support mechanism. Since that fateful day 40-some years ago, my shoulders, the poor mutts, have had to eat scraps and work hard for their run on the beach.

Prompted by a calm thoughtfulness and nostalgia resulting from the confinement of inclement weather, perhaps you decide to revisit this long-lost friend. You're in the mood for discovery, or re-discovery, as the case may be.

Just to assume the starting position -- slightly crouched with the dumbbells held fixed and ready before you -- and exert the outward and upward action with that particular shoulder contraction at the peak would be enough, no matter how light the resistance. Start with five pounds and exact the movement. Feel that chill of rebirth.

You know that groove, like an old song when you were happy and growing up with your buds. How does it go again? Go to the 10s, brace the body and retrace the groove. At 10 reps you're burning and pumping and singing in the rain. And smiling.

Grab the 15-pounders like they were your third and final attempt at setting a new world record: tense, deliberate, prepared for the high risk, yet confident with hope and faith and need. With extraordinary focus, rep upon rep, fight your way to another stunning 10 reps. The muscle activity is real, the pump and burn are not imaginary and you devour the encouragement.

The telltale twang on the last reps don't scare you. They give a kind warning. Be smart. Go slowly. Build up and support the area to permit further action, heavier weight, tighter contraction, greater overload and enable the delts to assume the proportions and consistency of cantaloupes.


Two more sets with the 15s and we'll sneak up on the reluctant exercise over the next months. You may need to fashion a new groove.

Now you're standing at the exit, not fighting to get out first. The rain is inviting, but wet nonetheless. The miserable weather conditions are good for the dry landscape and our spoiled-rotten nature.

You're done here today, thank God, and better prepared for tomorrow.

Not one is taller than the other, race and gender don't matter and any one of you would carry the other if he or she asked. We are in this together.

See ya later...stay dry...don't slip on the stairs.



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