Reduced to Tears
Annegret Hunter on Taking the Body Too Seriously
It is always painful for me to go to the doctor; therefore, I avoid it as much as possible. My doctor is a tiny slip of a woman with a one-track mind: “You have to lose weight. You must exercise more. What do you do for exercise?”
On an average day, I rush up and down the upper and basement stairs at least one hundred seventy-nine times, with and without arms full of laundry—running after boys, fetching, bringing, lugging, looking for things, cleaning, wiping, running after calls: front door, back door, husband, grandma, telephone, boy in basement, boy in attic. . . .
“I’m too tired for exercises,” I say. The doctor knows that I do not work. It is written right there in her papers. I even remember when she wrote it in; it was on my very first visit. “Do you work?” she had asked. “Of course. I teach my children at home, and then there is the housework, and the garden, and grandma moved in. . . .”
“You must be a very patient woman,” she had said, while ticking off the No space. To my dumbfounded stare she had shrugged apologetically: “Being at home does not count as real work, you know.”
“Take an aerobics class,” she says absently, flipping through her papers. I hate aerobics. The music drives me to violence. “Bodily exercise profiteth little,” I point out. She blinks. “Paul,” I murmur, “First Timothy?”
She blinks again. “I’ll give you some pills to keep the blood pressure low, and put you down for some tests: bone density, breast exams, etc, etc.” I feel old age advancing with lightning speed. “Look,” I tell her, “I feel fine! A little tired from time to time, but that’s to be expected; I’m not a spring chicken anymore. I consider creaking knees and the loss of my sylphlike figure just part of getting old!”
She puts down her pen and looks at me, astonished. “Well, that’s certainly an interesting attitude; rather unusual, though.” I go home and forget all about her, until the next time.
Beating the Scales
And so it goes. But now my kids are grown up and have moved away from home, and I actually do take the time to slim down a little—without aerobics. What an experience! Where my mind formerly dwelt on the well-being of sons and husband—you know: cooking, cleaning, reminding, nagging, cajoling—that space is now filled with slimming down. I fight for every pound lost. The scales are my constant friend or foe, and then, success: I am twenty pounds lighter.
This calls for a celebration, and I visit my favorite SA boutique, feeling pretty, and witty, and bright. Sure enough, I find something that fits and is a whole size smaller, and I float lightly to the checkout, where a young girl (in her twenties, I guess) rings in the price, and another lady (probably my age) lines up behind me. I smile broadly at her (she surely has noted my slimness); she smiles back and says, “You know, you remind me of my mother.”
I am somewhat taken aback. Apart from the non-existent age difference (I might be off there a few years), the good lady is black! “What do you mean?” I ask, and she makes some strange movements with her hands. I look bewildered at the cashier, who blushes crimson and stammers: “I think roundish people can be very nice.” “That’s very true,” I agree.
What is she talking about? I clutch my purchases and, looking for the car, I leave, deeply perplexed. Was I just part of some absurd theatre, or am I crazy?
I open the car, sit down, open the window, and the truth hits me. That woman thought I was round like her mother. And I laugh; I laugh so hard that I can barely breathe. So much for taking oneself so seriously! So much for being obsessed with one’s own body! It truly is all vanity and straw and very ridiculous. I wanted to go back and tell that lady that I was honored to be a reminder of her mother, and find out about her.
As I wipe the tears from my eyes, I notice the shocked face of a fellow shopper in the parking spot next to me, too afraid to open his door, and I weakly wave him on and break out into new fits of laughter.
Oh dearest Lord, it is so comforting to know that you look at us with compassion. We are such foolish creatures. And so pride bursts and humility yet again puts us back on the right path, where we may apply our hearts unto wisdom, for “all flesh is grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass.”
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“Reduced to Tears” first appeared in the May 2007 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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