He Ain’t Heavy…

What do kettlebells have to do with racism?  As far as I know, absolutely nothing.  Having said that, here’s how my mind put them together.  

I have been thinking about racism for as long as I have had any awareness of it.  I could have said…for as long as I have known what it was, but that is an ever shifting basis.  If I could go back and have a conversation with myself at 5 years of age, 10 years of age, 15 years of age, or even 45 years of age, I could teach myself quite a bit about what I have learned.  As I understand it now, it is not at all what I thought at 45, to say nothing of what I imagined as a child.  

I grew up in the era of public school bussing.  And while my experience did not involve bussing personally, the ethos of that particular issue informed my formative years.  To boil it down to something very simple, the idea that familiarity and, well, “integration” would fix…it, was the reigning principle.  A lot of things came out of that approach, but fixing the notion that people would change how they view outsiders wasn’t one of them.  

Having now achieved ‘level six’, I reflect on how I thought about the issue when I was about 45 years of age, and I see differences.  First, I have come to understand that it is not about who you know.  We all ‘have a friend…’. That ain’t it.  The issue that really plagues the world comes from the top down.  It is a power game rather than a social activity.  How we treat those we know is highly important, but it does not affect the larger issue in any real way.  There is almost no connection.

The funny thing with aging is that we, hopefully, begin to see the record of connections that we have made.  The way our minds work, we arrange facts, find parallels, and move forward…hopefully with understanding.  We begin to use shorthand, and take shortcuts because we have seen it fifty, a hundred, or thousands of times before.  We ask fewer questions and begin to plug in values because we are busy…and tired.  

That’s where the kettlebells come in.  I’ve been working with those bastards for about two years now.  I can’t stand when I see them coming.  It is never pleasant.  The way they come to me is in the hands of my trainer.  I go to the gym where I have an appointment with him, and he sets them up.  This usually comes around minute 45 of a 60 minute workout.  We go into a room where there is a carpet of artificial turf, and he has arranged 4 kettlebells.  The last appointment had KBs of 40, 50, 60, and 70 pounds in a row.  Mind you, this is after being already soaking wet with perspiration from lifting weights in other rooms.  I’m tired and I have abused my muscles with microtears  which will be genuine pain within 24 hours.  At this point it is just glycogen depletion and exhaustion.  My limbs feel like cargo rather than the tools to help me with the cargo.  

And at this point, your mind does funny things.  You start seeking shortcuts and shorthand.  The thing of it is, when attempting difficult physical maneuvers, shortcuts are dangerous.  Discipline is a must.  Injury comes from doing it wrong.  Success in acquiring the benefit of the exercise comes from doing it properly.  This is where the trainer really comes in.  He can watch like a hawk, and demand that I stay within the proper technique.  As I master the technique, he demands that I go faster, longer, and even heavier.  

It is very difficult to explain the mental breakdown because this requires lucidity, but were it not for the threat of  immediate physical injury, the motion would either be abandoned or some self harm would occur.  After running up and back and lifting these damned hunks of metal, it would take some effort to tell you my middle name.  There is a real brain fog.  It takes everything my mind can muster to think, “head up”, “shoulders back”, “up not out”, “slight knee bend”, “load the quads”, “from the heels”…etc.  After completing one, there is only 39 more.  Just hearing that number can cause you to want to collapse.  

And that is what contemplations of racism feels like at 60 relative to any earlier time in my life.  The ‘not this shit again’ takes you to a ‘not today’ place instantly.  

The day after Thanksgiving, I got a call from ‘Uncle MAGA’…77 years of age.  He wanted me to watch a new film about the George Floyd arrest.  He said he wanted my “expert opinion”.  I made it all the way through Thanksgiving dinner without a hint of this, and then it catches me a day later.  

So, when his voicemail popped up, I asked my wife to say that I was on my way to the gym, which I was, and I’d get back to him in a few hours.  Once I had watched the film of an hour and 45 minutes, I wrote him an email about my view, with a minute by minute analysis.  Once I had, he just responded, “I disagree.”

He didn’t want my opinion.  He wanted a validation of his own.  I stewed while writing my opinion.  I stewed while watching the film.  And I stewed for several days afterward.  I may still be stewing.  The idea providing the heat to my stew was, “how could he think I would find this acceptable?”  “How does he not know that this is insulting?”  Uncle MAGA is a good man, and a smart man.  He just also happens to be one who is attracted to conspiracy theories.  There are new ones re: George Floyd which I don’t even think merit a detailed mention, but there it is.  

I do not understand how he could think I would accept his view of what I observed of that televised murder.  I don’t get how he can’t see that police officers like Derek Chauvin are threats to people like me, and to the general peace.  My mind is ready to explode when I see that subject coming toward me.  It is really quite clear, and it is so, so heavy.  But there it is.  Shall I avoid him at Christmas dinner in a couple of weeks.  My worry was that if he raises the question, I will tell him exactly how I feel, so I would rather not.  And if he doesn’t raise the question…that must mean something else that I can’t grok.  This is one heavy kettlebell and I really do not want to do it.  My wife says I will, though.  

I know that Uncle MAGA is a good man, and that he loves me.  I could do the shorthand and believe that he doesn’t.  I’d be wrong.