One of the realities of my marriage is that I developed an identity that was connected to the marriage, and in many respects that identity over time lost a great deal of its individuality.
I was a part of a whole which was our marriage. One of the first terrifying feelings I faced in the days following Lewis’ untimely death was that my body did not even feel to me like it was my own. I always thought of it as a kind of shared space. And in some ways, very important ways, I had given it to him. I thought to myself, what good it is it to me now that he is gone? It did not seem possible that I could live in it, breathe, and move without his touch and closeness. Similarly, I felt a similar sense about his body. His closeness to me.
I think of him now and I weep readily and can hardly catch my breath when I think of his skin, his smell, the nooks and crannies of his frame, his strong and muscular legs. They developed their contours when he was an adolescent and a member of the track team in high school. Later, when we were in our late thirties he completed 10K’s and for many years we would run together daily. I always marvelled, though, at how little they changed over the years.
He had developed a thick and strong torso and while he was slightly overweight there was very little fat to be found, except on his round tummy. His skin was always beautiful and he kept himself very, very clean. I loved touching him. Most of all, I adored his misty blue eyes and broad smile.
I know he had very similar feelings about me. I could not put those feelings into words, only he could do that. Our bodies were a shared, sacred space.
Now that Lewis is gone, I have to re-identify myself again with the fact of my being a single person. I have had to look at myself as a whole person and assess anew how I feel about my body and, especially, how I feel about the weight I have accumulated over the last several years.
I have never liked it. I have not really hated it. But some part of me, year after year, would recognize that I had allowed myself to let go of an essential part of my preference and life enjoyment that I derived from staying fit. In our marriage, we accommodated to the changes, we walked instead of running. We spent more time in sedentary activity. When I injured myself repeatedly, he took care of my wounds and massaged my joints, muscles and tendons. He kept my body feeling good just with his touch and innate ability to probe and find the tender spots, the lymphatic blockages, the muscle tightness and the places that needed his skillful attention. I was spoiled.
Now I am on my own again. I want to move, to dance again, to swim, and play tennis. I want to have a light and more graceful step. All these things were important to me once. But I let them go and slowly, and over time, my muscle mass reduced, I lost definition and endurance and I tolerated all the increased fatty tissue.
It is hard to believe that I did this to myself.
So within the many re-emerging qualities of my new singular identity is a powerful and determined inner athlete. One that I know well but have neglected.
The last few weeks, I have begun to get myself safely in shape by swimming. First it was five laps, then ten, and then twenty. Last weekend I swam a third of a mile without stopping. I signed up for an intermediate swimming class and when I was there the athletic director laughed and said he thought I should join the swim team and that he wanted to get his stop watch to see how fast I move in the water. This was very funny, of course, but recognized the fact that I have good swimming form and quickness for the size of my frame.
He and I have been talking about my teaching a swimming class sometime next year. I would like to integrate what I know about stress management, body movement and relaxation into an aquatic setting. I know that this will be a healing experience for me and that I should be able to help others with it too.
Yesterday evening, I walked the mile and four tenths circle with my neighbor and I hardly noticed the impact. He wanted me to introduce him to the practice of relaxation training and we did that after I had taken a bit of time to shift my body into a quiet space. That shift was very seamless one for me. I hope the practice will open a new door for him. He likes to run and swim, but has not had much experience with the other end of the mind/body continuum.
There is so much to learn. I have always wanted to master tai chi. I have spent some time with VCR tapes and learned a few of the essentials. Each of these integrative mind/body life experiences can be so challenging and rewarding!
And when I swim I do not grieve, but feel great joy and contentment. I become more alive.