It all started when the "Check Engine" light came on a few weeks ago. On a hot Wednesday morning, on my way to a clergy meeting at a small town church, wandering on country roads and not entirely sure how to get to my destination, I saw that dreaded portent.
I have a theory that these lights are set to go off at odd numbers on the odometer just to get you to take the car to the dealership.
But what is the equivalent for our bodies? I have to admit that while I am pretty good about making sure other members of my family get to the doctor for regular check-ups, I am bad about it for myself. Part of this is a morbid fear of being told to get my act together around food and weight. I expect the doctor to go at me the way my mother used to do. I remember only too well how she held out the fantasy that weight loss would solve everything else in my life. It certainly did not, and it also opened up a new subdivision in our ever-developing lifelong struggle with one another, in which I put weight back on and she lost it.
Meanwhile, I’m getting older, and the older I get the more like my father I become. My work takes increasing precedence, and why not when it is so satisfying? It feels important (oh, that word! That verbal equivalent of crack or smack or X or whatever the drug of choice might be!). I’m doing things for others and that is surely more significant than doing things for myself, right?
Back to the "Check Engine" light. As a good owner of an over-driven Solid Gold Volvo, I have the dealership number programmed into my cell phone. I pulled over and called the service department. I explained that the car was behaving normally, but the "Check Engine" light was on, and I was far from civilization and a bit worried.
"It’s probably safe to drive," said the man on the other end of the phone, safely ensconced at City By the Sea Volvo.
I didn’t have much choice. I kept driving. I made an appointment to bring in the car, but the light went off and I was too busy and weeks went by and…
The other day the light came on again. "Check Engine."
I cannot help but think about the relationship of this car with its 116,000 miles and my 46-year-old body, each of which I drive rather hard without providing adequate preventive maintenance. If the car breaks down or requires too much repair, I can trade it in and start over again. Not so my own vehicle, the carrier of my heart and soul and mind. I only get one.
My attitude about that body, my body, is composed of many conflicting feelings and impressions and responses and judgments. Maybe we all feel this way. The same body that felt powerful and noble bringing life into the world felt threatened with death performing the same feat a few years later. The body that felt rejected and inadequate in what feels like another life has moments of feeling quite the opposite in the now. A body that a few years ago climbed mountains had reached a point of finding a few flights of stairs a nearly insuperable obstacle, a wind-sapping marathon that made preaching feel difficult.
I’m pleased to say that after ten days of walking I do feel somewhat better already, but I know how difficult I find it to stay with a discipline of this sort. I become distracted by the "important" and fail to rate care of my own machine high enough. I used to say, after the times in which I had been frighteningly depressed, that I was not afraid enough of dying. Not so now, I have more to do in this life, I hope, and scary as it sounds to me, the hard work of caring for myself seems to be part of it.