The heart-rate monitor on the treadmill tells me that I am hovering at the cardiovascular redline of males my age; from experience, I know I can sustain this level of output for about two more minutes before I need to reduce my run-speed in the Interval Training program that I am running. There's half-empty water bottle to my right; the contents of bottle's other half is soaking through my shirt as I listen to the last minutes of a New Scientist podcast through my B&O earphones as I adjust the speed for a final full-power sprint to close out the running portion of my workout.
My lane is clear and I begin a steady crawl stroke across the Olympic-sized pool.
In anticipation of triathlon training I will be starting in six months, I've recently added swimming to my regimen - while running is an intense activity that demands my full-time attention, my mind wanders during laps in the pool, drifting to different snippets of conversations from previous weeks.
Today, thoughts coalesce on the three-hour conversation I had with a twentysomething friend of mine, Brad, who survived a major car accident two years ago which left his shoulder hanging precariously from the socket, leaving him in chronic, intense pain. We spoke of how often we take for granted things until they are taken away; having only broken my wrist in a mountain-biking accident fifteen years ago, I can barely relate to what it must feel to be in the sort of pain he's describing - his need to be dosed up on Oxycontin just to get through the day. Although an upcoming surgery can hopefully fix a significant portion of his shoulder, he faces the very real possibility of spending the rest of his life with permanent damage to his rotator and motor functions.
We talked about the psychology of pain; about what he would give to live one day - just one day - without pain, to trade his body for someone else's for 24 hours and do all the things most people take for granted.
At 33, my body still obeys all my commands without complaint or failure - and it takes a conversation like that for me to realize what a miracle that truly is.
Press this pair of 50-lb weights to muscle failure, three times, on the incline bench.
Now, run eight miles on an interval circuit at 100% of your maximum heart rate.
"Right away, sir!"
During one of those whimsical flights of fancy my imagination is known to take, I imagine myself addressing a boardroom comprised of an anthropomorphized assembly of my body parts and internal systems (lungs, heart, nerve clusters, skeletal, etc),
Me: "I wish I could thank each of you every day for the consistent and reliable service you've rendered these decades, and I hope we enjoy many more to come. But one day, one of you will fail me - one of you will be the first to fall on the job."
The image, once in my thoughts, would not leave. In mind's eye, I see my self-avatar in his best "El Jefe" swagger, pacing a long boardroom to continue:
"... and that failure will begin a cascade of failures that ends with the final failure that will doom us all. I don't know who among you will be the first to fail me,"
At this, I imagine pausing at the seat of the avatar representing my reproductive organs and, leaning over in a menacing voice, growl:
" ... all I can say is, it'd better not be YOU."
As the crowd chuckles, the mental image fades ... and I am back in my lane at the pool.
I perform an inverted flip and propel myself off the wall and breach the surface of the water and resume my laps.
Understanding that this body, this fabulous, reliable machine that has served me so well will one day break down piece by piece is both sobering and - odd as it may sound - liberating. This bag of blood and bones is not immortal - but what I do with it CAN be.
During Toastmasters last Wednesday , I was asked: "You seem so driven. What is it that motivates you?"
It's a good question. For my off-the-cuff response, I gave an abbreviated version of the above, and in so doing, was reminded of the exchange from Good Will Hunting between Chuckie and Will:
Will: Oh, come on! What? Why is it always this? I mean, I 'owe it to myself' to do this or that. What if I don't want to?
Chuckie: No. No, no no no. Screw you, you don't owe it to yourself man, you owe it to me, 'cause tomorrow I'm gonna wake up and I'll be 50, and I'll still be laying bricks. And that's all right. That's fine. I mean, you - you're sittin' on a winnin' lottery ticket, but you're too much of a pussy to cash it in, and that's bullshit. 'Cause I'd do f-ing anything to have what you got. So would any of these f-ing guys. It'd be an insult to us if you're still here in 20 years.
And that same thing could be said for the rest of us. I know there are frustrations and difficulties attendant to all our lives - but on balance, we should celebrate and be grateful that we live lives of absurd abundance left fallow for lack of understanding of how uniquely blessed we are: full use of our limbs, unlimited supply of clean potable water, access to free indexed repositories of human knowledge ... an embarrassment of riches that eclipses Croesus' holdings in his prime.
This morning, I am going to cash in on my winning lottery ticket of good health by taking an extended run on the dirt trail course around my office.
Cash in on my (relative!) youth and energy to block out three hours to a joint-screenwriting project I've recently accepted and email my writing partner on the list of things we need to complete this week.
And so to you, Constant Reader a gentle exhortation: live your dreams. Today. You won't always have what you have at this moment, and there's no better time to start than right now.
PS: An oddity ... (this seems to always inspire gasps of envy from other Asians) unusual among Chinese-Americans, I have 20/20 uncorrected vision. Which is probably a double blessing considering my propensity to lose expensive eyewear. Heh.