Category Archives: culture
Years ago, when I was a graduate student doing time in the exercise science laboratory in the depths of the Smith Center at George Washington University, I committed a mistake that nearly turned disastrous.
My lab partner and I were learning how to operate the treadmill in accordance with an exercise stress test protocol. The test started with the treadmill at low speed, shallow incline and low physical demand and progressed gradually by steps to higher speeds, steeper inclines and maximum physical challenge. The test was finished when the participant asked to stop or until they could no longer keep up the pace. The highest level reached provided a measure of their maximal exercise capacity.
On this day, my brave lab partner chose to take the first turn on the treadmill while I, full of A student confidence, deftly operated the treadmill controls. She began walking very slowly on the level belt while I got the hang of adjusting speed and incline at regular intervals. Up she went in speed and incline, easily managing the changes in pace. After several minutes, she, being quite fit, had progressed to very high levels on the test, running at top speed at a steep incline, breathing heavily at a rapid heart rate. She was sweating and near exhaustion when she finally signaled she was ready to stop the test.
Seeing her signal, I did what was natural. Yep, I hit the STOP button. Do you know what happens when you hit the stop button on a treadmill when someone is running at full speed?
For some reason, this event has come alive in my mind in these days when the whole world has lurched to a sudden stop. The corona virus hit the stop button on the treadmill where the very fortunate were mid-run at a steep incline, and all the world has been launched into a free fall.
Now, in my days as a graduate student I was of course not alone in the exercise lab while performing this stress test. Rather, I was doing all this under the watchful eye of my exercise science professor, Dr Paup. He, reacting quickly to what he saw I was about to do, shouted, “Don’t stop the treadmill!” Hearing him and in sudden recognition of what I had just done, I did exactly what one should never do next… Yep, in reflex response, I hit the start button.
Fortunately for me, my lab partner was not only fit but also nimble. Somehow by throwing out her hands for balance, grabbing the handrails and lifting her weight from her now hopelessly entangled running sneakers, she escaped disaster and emerged from my total incompetence completely uninjured.
To this day, I have extra respect and harbor even a bit of trepidation with regard to the OFF button on a treadmill. Please, I beg you, press it only in an emergency and preferably not while someone is running. Isaac Newton was right when he told us that a thing in motion tends to remain in motion.
But please, and in fact this precaution is veritably screaming at me to announce in these days, if one makes the unfortunate mistake of hitting the STOP, which one may do when one is young and this experience is new, do not risk further injury by hitting the START to bring things back up to speed. While treadmills are designed to power down with a bit of grace, they don’t have a safety guard against the reflexive stupidity we are prone to when we go to correct our first error by committing another.
This stoppage time, unwelcome to us all, but especially to those who were just hitting their stride, has given us a marvelous opportunity to power down and assess the reasoning behind our activities and the potential recklessness of our protocols. Surely, it will be tempting and even reflexive to mash the start button to correct our error, but it’s better we didn’t.
What if, in this moment of profound pause and redemptive grace, we took stock of the value that’s been displayed so glowingly before us and decided to honor it by acknowledging its worth? How might that change our protocols?
This pair of eagles was perched on the rooftop, amiably and companionably awaiting the rise of the new day, new month, new year, new decade. I wonder what they can see way up ahead, where their eagle eyes can pierce through the fog, the foliage and the distance.
My eyes, on the other hand, are such feeble instruments, requiring spectacles to read the tiny print and binoculars to bring distant things into focus. What meager vision I have by comparison to these two magnificent creatures. And yet, I perch before my day and pretend to see it clearly.
Vision, what a miraculous gift! But how confounding. Because my two eyes, set apart as they are, give me two versions of my world, one from the right and one from the left. Thus, I have two perspectives on every viewpoint, such that by holding them together I may compare them and judge their distance. This is how My Designer teaches me depth perception.
In order to compare what each side sees, some of the “image” from my right eye crosses over to the left side of my brain and some of the “image” from my left eye crosses over to the right. Thus, my brain shares visual input “across its aisle,” considering both sides before concluding what it sees. This is how my Designer teaches me deliberation.
Because of the unique properties of the lens in my eye, the image on my retina is projected upside down. The top is on the bottom and the bottom is on the top. Only as I use my body through my environment, touching, feeling, manipulating what’s before me can I convert the image to see it “right side up.” This is how my Designer teaches me mind-body connection.
Next, my eyes send this abstract collection of color, intensity and pattern on a journey to my visual cortex where the inputs are compared with patterns I have seen before and impressions made by previous experience. Along with other pertinent sensory input, all of this is “processed” in light of what I’ve learned and what I believe. This is how my Designer teaches me understanding.
Finally, I see.
Isn’t it miraculous how inside a problem lay its solution? How inside a question lay its answer? And if we pay close attention, how inside a human lay our solution for humanity? This is how my Designer teaches me about Himself.
Sitting together on a rooftop taking in the long view before the sunrise of a new decade, I pray we might see into the distance and be completely and utterly amazed. Now that would be 2020 VISION.
*For more like this check out Made to Move: Knowing and Loving God Through Our Bodies.
” I am special because … I am really good at playing soccer.”
Saw this today. A mother’s shout-out from her teacher-parent conference, complete with an image of her young child, kindergarten age, with a quotation bubble completing this phrase. His smiling face hovered atop a cutout body, colored with red and green crayolas.
It is no surprise that this child has skills advanced for his age. His parents are dynamite soccer players. From the cradle, he has been immersed in this game. It’s a great game. Wonderful to teach children how to use their bodies well, and when they’re older, how to work with teammates, how to take direction from coaches, how to focus on what’s important and not on all that chatter from the sidelines.
But little one, though today you may excel at playing soccer compared to your teammates or classmates or age mates, there will come a day when, by comparison, you may fall short. And on that day I hope you will remember what was true long before this day. I hope you hear it from your teacher, your coaches, your parents — even and especially if they’re also you’re coaches: you are special before you ever take the field.
I know they feel this way, but perhaps in the muddle of midget soccer things have gotten confused or at least confounded. You have connected yourself with capability and so you wear your confidence proudly. You’re rewarded for your accomplishment and it becomes hard to distinguish yourself from it. It’s who you are; it’s what you do; it’s what you love to do, what you’re meant to do, where you’re meant to be, who you’re meant to be; it’s what you’re made for.
How I would love this for you, if only….
If only, instead of “I am special because I can…,” you could begin with “I am special because I am …..” Unique in all the world. The only me that will ever be. Nothing compares with that.
Be bold, little one, but first, be you.