Yesterday - my back went out.
Today - I swam in the bay.
This simple fact is one of the greatest physical achievements of my life. I moved when my whole body was telling me to stop.
I'm not an athletic person. Not even close. Before this, my two greatest sports-like achievements were making a three point shot in a middle school basketball game and completing the Susan G. Komen 3-Day walk just after my 40th birthday.
In the first instance, I was on a team that never won a game. I almost always fouled out early, and the court was shortened...so the shot, while remarkable for me, was, by no means an indication of athletic prowess. When that school year concluded, the only award they could come up for me was "Best Sportsmanship" which I figure translates to "You gave it a good whirl."
In the second, I walked 60 miles in 3 days to raise $4500 for breast cancer research. I was very proud of myself. I also broke down sobbing at the end of day two when I saw our camp was just around the corner. Moments before I'd almost given up. I was in agony. But, determined. I pushed through to the very end wondering the whole time why, when this was the most physically in shape I'd ever been, I felt so completely miserable.
Afterwards my body took months to recover. I discovered later that I am gluten sensitive, so all the bready carbohydrates they recommended during training were helping to make each step more painful than the last. This made the idea of going back to regular physical activity feel fairly dangerous.
Until I moved to Maine and discovered that swimming in the cold waters of Penobscot Bay are healing for both body and soul. My first summer, I waited until the end of July to even dare going in. I'm used to warm water swimming and it felt absurd to willingly plunge into freezing water and pretend it was like being in the southern oceans of my childhood. But the rush of, I don't know what...adrenaline?...was addictive and soon I challenged myself to go in every single day for as long as the weather was remotely safe to do so. I lasted till November 17th.
While that may seem like an athletic achievement, it's not so much. I only stay in for 5-10 minutes on most days. I swim. I do water calisthenics. I pray, dance, and try, mostly, to bring myself present to the moment while connecting to the water, the life force of the planet. So, I'd say it was more of a spiritual practice than an athletic one. And the last two summers, my swimming is not nearly as regular, tho I try to stack wood, mow the lawn, or somehow move my body in such a way as to keep strong.
Which is how my back went out. I tried moving furniture at 7 o'clock in the morning. I felt it go, but was determined to finish the job and kept going.
Please, kids, never try that at home...or anywhere. When the back says stop moving the furniture...stop. moving the furniture!
I could barely move without seizing up and falling over from pain, but I had things to do, so I kept up my schedule until I ended up on the couch, unmoving for 24 hours at which point I had to go out to a dentist appointment. I verrrrryyyy slowly made my way to the car, to the appointment, to the post office. On the way I saw that the tide was high and the waters calm ~ perfect swimming conditions.
While my teeth were polished, I debated the sanity of trying to swim. What if I stepped on a sharp rock and my body recoiled and my back seized up and made things worse....
But I couldn't let another day go by without going in the water. I had to try. I drove to the beach, maneuvered on my bathing suit in the parking area, under a dress, which is no easy feat when your lower back is locked up, and hobbled to the beach to float and kick and move in the water. I not only battled my body to get there, but old stories about how its easier to just give up and stay sedentary; no one expects anything from me, and it will probably hurt more if I go.
Well, it didn't...hurt more. It felt fantastic. my body loosened up and stopped protecting itself. The water held me and I let myself float in the cold water, surrounded by fog. I only stayed in for a few minutes; that's ok. I just needed to go in. To touch the salt and sea. To remember I can move ahead any time I choose and old stories have no hold over me.
Also, I started to understand that maybe its ok to choose to inhabit my body on my own terms, that I'm not failing myself if I don't go to the gym and I can't do a pull up or 20 burbees, or whatever the current athletic fad is. As long as I continue to find ways to love and nurture my physical form, to keep it strong and healthy, I might just be ok.
I might just keep moving forward.