Reclamation project

Twice during the holiday break, and thanks to an unseasonably warm winter on the prairie (so far), I’ve been able to take Bobolito for a couple of late afternoon walks around the block. He loves seeing the remaining Christmas lights and other decorations, picking up pine cones, and watching cars go by as we stand on a small bridge that arches over a stream. I love watching him walk, skip, gambol, prance, and run ahead of me on the sidewalk, clearly but unself-consciously happy in the pleasure of being in his body and making it move in the cool evening space. I enjoy his pleasure at his own movement, and I’m a bit envious.

When I was his age (three years old), I was spending much of my time in hospital emergency rooms and doctors offices, being poked by needles, swallowing awful-tasting medicine, being slathered with creams because of eczema. I suffered from severe childhood asthma, and I had allergies to substances ranging from grass to house dust to milk and cheese and fish. On my best days, my body and I held a steady truce, but I never knew when my lungs would betray me and the simple act of breathing would become a life and death struggle. As a result, I didn’t play sports as a child, and I came to see myself as awkward, un-athletic, weak.

Not until high school, as my illness subsided and I took up distance running, did I learn to trust and even enjoy my body. By that time, I felt much more at home in words and ideas and images (especially films). My asthma had the advantage of making me acutely physically aware, but the disadvantage of also making me suspicious and uncertain about my own physical presence, except when I was running. So seeing my three year old and his comfort with his body (and having similarly seen my 17-year-old when he performed gymnastics as a preteen) always comes as something of a surprise.

It also gives added significance to my running. I’m not only trying to be healthy physically when I run. Something in me is also trying to find some peace with my physical presence in the world. The asthma, the experiences of being a brown-skinned person in a predominantly white-skinned culture, have combined to distance me from my body, but I am trying to reclaim it–or, rather, to make the first real, deep, claim to who I am.

And along a different line, I am trying to do the same in my writing. Aging for me has become about not finding out who I am–I think I’ve had a good idea of that all along. It’s been about first making the best of, then accepting, and finally relishing who I am. I’m a long way from having arrived there yet, but when I see my sons moving so comfortably in their own flesh, I feel hope.

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