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More Stories - The Way We Were

The Body Remembers....
You've probably heard sometime the saying that "your body is a temple..." taken in one form or another from the Bible.  I have quoted this to dear friends who were chain smokers (to no effect, I might add.  Might as well have kept my trap shut!).   The same goes for retaining for as long as possible the health, spirit, curiosity and reactions of youth. 

Some ways to help this along is to keep learning... all your life.  Interact with children - they remind you of the fresh outlook of youth.  Another strategy is to keep physically active.  Exercise to remain supple.  Yet another is to keep your weight near normal while eating a wide variety of healthy foods, rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and fats high in omega 3.  Ponce de Leon was looking in the wrong place for the fountain of youth.

Walter Mills from Recipe du Jour wrote this piece in du Jour's excellent newsletter - giving us another reason to retain as much and as long as possible a youthful outlook on life.  It's also a reason to be sure children under your care eat a healthy diet and learn a variety of motor skills as well intellectual ones - math, puzzles, foreign language, reading, writing, typing, reasoning and logic....  If not started during youth, it's nearly impossible to learn many new skills when older. 

One reason I find the following piece especially poignant is because for me too, springtime is a reminder of youthfulness.  Even in sub-tropical South Florida the foliage is greener, the scents on the breeze stronger, migrating birds trilling their songs, the fruit trees renewing their cycle of bearing.  Protect the joy of life!

The Body Remembers
by Walter Mills

As I get older I find myself growing more and more disconnected from my body.  As a young boy I could barely keep myself from racing and leaping as I went to and from school or down the road to the country store.  I felt at times that I was only a small twitch of muscle away from breaking free from gravity altogether and flying up into the clouds.

I rode my bicycle for miles on back country roads when I was eleven or twelve, and when we moved to Key West in the summer of my twelfth year I spent every free moment playing ball or swimming in the inlet a few blocks from our house.  On rainy days I bounced a tennis ball off the carport wall and fielded it with a mitt for hours until I knew every angle the ball could take.  I lived through my senses, learned about physics through experience and muscle memory.  It was much the same for every boy I knew.

Carl, a friend in junior high, had decided on his own to be a marathon runner.  He wasn't interested in the school track team, if we even had one.  He got up every morning before school and ran five miles on his own; sometimes some of the rest of us tagged along just for the joy of it.  On weekends he ran 20 miles, and none of us tagged along.  Carl pushed his body further than the rest of us, but we were all physical, untutored tri-athletes, racing and riding and swimming through our days.

But somewhere along the way many of us begin to lose the clear connection with our limbs and muscles, and our bodies become burdens to us.  The poet Delmore Schwartz called his body "the heavy bear who goes with me," as though it were a kind of alien skin he had to wear over the purer form of his mind and spirit.  The heavy bear, he says, smears its face with honey, craves "candy, anger, and sleep."  First the body takes away our dignity, says the poet, then it betrays us with illness and pain, age and death.

Some days I feel like my body is a heavy bear, but other days, especially in spring, I grow tired of abstraction and the dull work of mental heavy lifting.  This morning, stiff and jittery from sitting in front of the computer for hours, exercising no more than my fingertips and my mind, I walked out into the sunlight in the yard and felt the light enter my body, translating physical energy directly into spiritual energy.

Are we "ghosts in the machine" as the writer Arthur Koestler says?  Spiritual creatures caught in the gears of a mechanical body?  Sometimes as I sit, slumped in my chair, daydreaming of distant places, my mind floating freely from the pyramids of ancient Egypt to the far side of the moon, the body seems hardly necessary at all, merely an encumbrance.

Then I shake off my physical lethargy and step outside.  The body suddenly is real and necessary again.  How could I feel the sun without my skin, even if it is not the smooth, unwrinkled skin of childhood?  The light is not the same light that glows blue-gray on the computer screen. The air outside is solid around me, living, and not the dead re-circulated air indoors.  I am alive again in a way I was not before.

I will never again have time to toss a ball five thousand times against a wall, but somewhere in my muscle memory there is a record.  Yesterday my daughter and I played catch in the yard.  One of her throws landed in front of me and took an odd skip.  Without hesitation or thought I reached out and fielded the ball, and for a moment I was the young boy again that the body had never forgotten.

Reprinted by permission.  (The above column originally appeared in the Centre Daily Times and is copyright © 2003 by Walter Mills. All rights reserved worldwide. To contact Walt, see  .)

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