Unexpected Warmth in the Season of Ice

I spent last weekend in Minneapolis, visiting my friend Mike. Friday night and Saturday were very nice. I truly enjoyed the time spent in low-key activities such as attending a high school girl’s basketball game, shopping with Mike’s sons for their winter formal fashions, and a delicious dinner at primebar in Uptown (if you go there, definitely get the steak flatbread; we had ours without the bechamel sauce).

It was great. But…

…I couldn’t relax. I received calls and texts from work throughout the evening on Friday, and again both Saturday morning and afternoon – it was difficult to disconnect from the stress of the work week when it followed me to another state! In addition, I was concerned about my Dad, fighting double pneumonia in Albuquerque. To top things off, I worried obsessively about the impending weather. When I left town on Friday, all weather reports were for some mixed precipitation on Sunday, but the forecast wasn’t particularly alarming. However, by Saturday, it became clear that ice was likely to be a major issue.

I needed to get back to Cedar Rapids on Sunday! I had so much to do! This couldn’t be happening! (Insert frantic hair pulling and frown-y face here)

Sunday morning, I was up by 7:15, disappointed to see the Iowa DOT website covered with the pink dots denoting 100% ice covered roadways. As I continued to check the Iowa and Minnesota DOT sites every fifteen minutes for the next two hours, the news got worse. Dark purple sections of road (travel not advised), tow bans (for those unlucky souls who were on the road and ended up in a ditch), and hazard triangles showing the locations of crashes proliferated. By 10:30 the weather radar and road maps had finally convinced me – the drive home simply was not going to happen until Monday.

And then the most amazing thing happened: within minutes of accepting that the situation was out of my hands, every part of me relaxed. I don’t mean I sat a little more comfortably on Mike’s white IKEA loveseat. I mean, deeply relaxed. Muscles let go of tension, blood slowed to a normal pace in my veins, breathing became deep and regular.

The rest of the day, we took our time. Mike scoured his kitchen sink, I scoured my blog reader for interesting posts. I showered. Mike showered longer. When we left his apartment for lunch, the morning rain was just switching over to ice pellets. By the time we reached our destination, Turtle Bread, the ice was visibly accumulating. Inside the warm bakery/deli, we were cozy, surrounded by fresh-from-the-oven loaves and inhaling warm, humid, yeast-scented air. We talked and laughed as we leisurely ate our salads and homemade chicken pot pies. Facing the windows all along the front of the cafe, I saw the ice turn to big, fat snowflakes which quickly blanketed everything in quiet white. I watched as passersby exhibited varying reactions to the snow, some hunched up inside their winter parkas looking grim and others displaying childlike exuberance and joy.

The remainder of our lazy Sunday flowed from there: browsing the shops in Uptown, Kowalski’s for pizza toppings (we bought fresh pizza dough at Turtle Bread), back to Mike’s for an evening of public television (of course, Downton Abbey!) and fresh food, topped off by a viewing of “The Mexican.” Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt – how can you go wrong?

Honestly, not one minute was “productive” (well, Mike did some laundry), and not one moment was spent worrying about what was not getting done. I had let it all go. As a result, I have rarely passed a day that more perfectly resonated with what I needed from it.

Normally, at this point in one of my posts I would get all academic, sharing the insights I’ve received from a variety of sources addressing exactly this instance. How to let go, how to relax, why I can’t let go, decision-fatigue, blah-dee-blah-blah. But this time, just this once, I want to let the experience speak for itself: the paradox of how an ice storm could suffuse me with so much calm warmth.

Mysteries, Yes
Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
to be understood.How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds
will never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.~ Mary Oliver ~(Evidence)

Comparative Obsession

For many years, I pretty much refused to step on a scale.  What did I weigh at my heaviest?  Who knows?  The highest number I ever saw register on a scale was 352 pounds.  Over the past few years, I’ve thought a lot about my weight.  Sometimes, I have been accused (or pointed the finger at myself) of being obsessed with the scale, my weight, or some other aspect of weight loss. Of allowing my mood to be dictated by my progress or lack of progress. Of always talking about my “weight loss journey”.

Last night, I started thinking about this.  And a thought came into my head that feels right and true – and not only because it lets me off the hook (though that’s a nice side benefit!).

Every day, every minute, of my 352 pound life I was obsessed with my weight.

The thoughts that consumed me were all about this one factor of my life – what I could do/could not do/was too embarrassed to do; what I would eat/would not eat/would never let someone see me eat; what people thought about me/didn’t think about me…there’s an endless list of weight-related items, and I haven’t even gotten to the self-loathing thoughts, the cruel comments of others, the invisibility I had in public as the “elephant” in the room and how those things impacted my obsessive thinking.

Today, I thought about my weight at the following times:  when I got up and stepped on the scale; when I went to the gym and worked with my trainer; at each meal; when I declined the offer of dinner out at a Mexican restaurant because I can’t control myself around the free chips baskets.  And now, as I sit writing the post I will publish on my blog in the morning.

What was happening in between those moments of focus on my weight?  I walked to work just as the sun broke through clouds and I rejoiced to feel light and warmth on my face.  I laughed. I interacted with friends and colleagues. I took the stairs without thinking about it because that’s what I do now: I take the stairs!  In other words, I went happily about my day.

There are whole chunks of time in which I am busy thinking about something other than what I weigh and the complicated mental and emotional underpinnings of being fat and ashamed.  Where I am now, even with the continued focus on losing weight (and the frustration I’m feeling about this last stubborn 60 pounds), is pretty good – and by comparison to my old life, not obsessive at all!

That said, I’m not where I want to be yet.  To get there will require focus and determined effort.  There will be times when it seems, both to myself and to others, that there is only one thing in my life that I care about.  Friends may tire of listening to me talk about it, I may tire of listening to myself talk about it. But this obsession leads to a healthier, happier life, full of opportunities and promise. Seems like a comparatively small price to pay.