lenten journal: incrementally


Because I am at a point in my life where I hold the record for the amount of Milton on the planet, and because I had my third cardioversion in November to correct my atrial fibrillation once again, and because I felt like I was beginning to petrify, I started going back to the gym a little over a month ago. Well, to say back to the gym is a little generous; it has been many years since I went with any consistency. Still, I am getting there three days a week and I feel better.

I have gone long enough to begin to notice people who are there at the same time I am. There’s one tall guy who seems to stay on the elliptical machine for a couple of hours–always the same one–and people he knows join in on either side for conversation and exercise. I also see an older man and a teenaged girl who look like grandfather and granddaughter. I say that because he mostly stays on the treadmill (usually the one in front of my stationary bike) and she moves around to different machines. When she walks behind him, he sticks his hand out and she gives him a hand slap. There’s the woman who puts her treadmill at such a steep angle that she has to hold on for dear life, and the high school boy, whose waist is about twenty inches, who flexes in front of the mirror in the locker room seeing muscles that are not readily apparent to the rest of us.

Then there’s the round man with the shaved head who has to take out his hearing aids so he doesn’t kill the batteries when he sweats and works his way around the circuit of machines and platforms designed to give a full workout in thirty minutes. Wait–that’s me: ten minutes on the bike, thirty on the circuit, and ten more on the bike. My lack of hearing aids means I only have to abide the bass line of the music throbbing through the place–my one time to be grateful for my hearing loss.

Five weeks in, I am not writing to say I have lost a huge amount of weight or soared to new athletic heights. I remain an amazingly mediocre athlete. My weeks of physical therapy after my knee replacements taught me that seeing how much weight I can move is not the point. Motion is lotion, as they say–light weight, more reps. The circuit of machines I follow has a green/red light that signals when it’s time to move to the next station, so the time passes quickly, and I remain fairly self-contained. I leave my phone in the car, I can’t hear much, and I’m just there to move every time the light changes because I want to feel better, and I want to feel better about me.

I leave the gym each time feeling a little tired and pretty good. I am learning to appreciate something I don’t particularly enjoy, but it’s not a drudgery. It matters. I continue to be in a season where the landscape of my depression is bleak, and it has been a long season. Making it to the gym Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays helps me navigate the terrain. It no longer feels like an anomaly on my calendar. It is part of my routine. I am learning the value of increments–small amounts of change that add up.

Nothing happened at the gym today that made this the day to write about it, other than I was there for my sixth Monday in a row, though later in the day than usual so I didn’t see the usual faces. On the way home, I stopped to pick up some groceries so we will be well-stocked for some sort of weather event over the next twenty-four hours, whether it is a snowstorm or what Ginger and I like to call a Dan Fogelberg (the snow turns into rain). I made chili and cornbread and we are snuggled in; whether we have to hunker down remains to be seen.

Part of the reason I went later today is we met with a dog trainer to talk about how to help Loretta get over her “stranger danger” when someone comes to the house. Along with some specific ideas, the trainer talked about the need for Loretta to have both physical and mental exercise. She gave us some great ideas. As I drove to the gym, I realized the same is true for me. Though I don’t feel the need to race around the yard eight times as fast as I can, I need both physical and mental exercise–the two feed on each other.

I have talked about going for many, many months. Five weeks ago, I actually did it. That first Saturday morning, I did not have a plan other than going that day. Then I went on Monday, and then I charted out dates for the next couple of weeks. Increments grew into intentions, or perhaps the other way around, and then into ritual–into meaningful repetition–something other than talk. I find myself marking time by gym days, much like I mark time by Sundays, or Newsletter Tuesdays, or regular coffee dates I have with friends this Lenten Journal. They are promises I want to keep. And they are all kept incrementally, one day at a time.



  1. good for you for getting to the gym. I am sporadically regular, and did go to water Stretch and Tone this morning. There were only four of us, perhaps because it was raining. Odd that rain – but not snow – would keep people at home. Anyway, thank you for writing these encouraging words about exercise. I’m dealing with a-fib, and a new C-pap… we have several things in common!

  2. I flashed to Robert Frost from your next to last line:
    “They are promises I want to keep.”
    And miles to go before I sleep.
    And miles to go before I sleep.

    And I enjoy walking them with you thru your Lenten journal.

  3. Milton, as always, thanks for the inspiration. I aim to get back on the exercise bike here in the house- which should easily be done?! For many reasons, happy that March will be here!
    Take care!

Leave a Reply