My New Year’s resolution this year is to take ten minutes to stretch after waking up every day.
A year ago, I’d have been so confident in my physical form that I wouldn’t even be offended if someone told me I needed to do this. I’d nod nicely at their naïveté. Did they not know I was invincible? Even these past months, when I visited a physiotherapist or dentist and they asked about my general practitioner, I say “technically Doctor X, but I haven’t seen him since transferring my patient file over from my pediatrician, so…” That’s right, I haven’t been to the doctor since I was eighteen.
And I never felt the need to go see a doctor. I had passed the age where I felt miserable being sick, and moved onto popping a few Tylenols to get on with my day. I could go to sleep at any hour, after consuming any number of substances, and wake up to play basketball with friends in the morning. I routinely skipped stretches and warmups in workouts, considering them either a waste of time or too much cardio.
Growing old is weird. It creeps up slowly and discreetly, then all at once. I started getting muscle pains when I was sick. I started gaining weight if I ate without restraint and exercise. I started getting hung over after nights out. And then most recently, I started getting injuries that just didn’t heal.
The first of these was a clicking and strained elbow from falling off a roadside planter in Seoul. Long story, but understandable given the height from which I fell and the severe bruising. The second is a sore knee from a fifteen kilometer hike. Fifteen kilometers! I used to be able to run that! But two months after the hike and lots of stretching later, I’ve realized that I’d likely have to contend with this for the rest of my life as well.
I now not only differentiate my appendages by left and right, but also good and bad. The elbow clicks at any sort of strain. The knee has good and bad days and is starting to become like the knees of vaguely offensive old Scottish sea captain caricatures: “Aye, it’ll be raining t’morrow, mah laddie. I kin feel it in this peg shank o’ mine. Ne’er missed a squall yit.”
I’ve come to accept these pains, jokingly referring to them as souvenirs from past trips with my friends. Though no number of physiotherapy sessions will ever restore them to how they were a year ago, my quality of life hasn’t significantly deteriorated. That these injuries spurred me to stretch every morning by occurring in the same year perhaps makes them a net positive.
While I was doing the first of these stretches a few days ago, my mother, a longtime yoga aficionado, insisted on providing input and reminding me that she had actually encouraged me to stretch daily a few years ago. I had ignored her at the time, dismissing stretching and yoga as exercises for old people who could no longer play sports, but if I limbered up before my hike, perhaps I wouldn’t have the bad knee.
A little more than a year ago, she had another I told you so moment when she found out that I had started applying sunscreen daily. Growing up, I hated sunscreen. It was greasy and smelt bad, and I didn’t get sunburned often anyways. Warnings of skin cancer fell on deaf ears as I squirmed away from my mother to avoid applications and reapplications of the stuff. The same went for moisturizer and skin cleanser; I have dry skin, and never experienced the horror of acne breakouts like other teenagers.
Then some of my friends started getting into skincare. I initially dismissed this as doting by snake-oil toting girlfriends, but some then my single friends started indulging in high-end skin products. I rationalized it as lifestyle creep until I started noticing fine lines appearing when I creased my brows. And so I started my journey into skincare, starting off with sunscreen and makeup remover to get it off, moving onto facial cleansers and toners, culminating in face masks and eye cream from that visit to Seoul. Good trip for the skin, though not the best for my joints.
Over the recent past, I picked up more habits that didn’t stick when my parents forced them on me the first time around: eating vegetables, sleeping early, and slippers in the house. A few months ago I realized to my dismay that, much like my parents, I was never going to be able to get a dog: simply too much work and too cruel to leave at home while I went to work.
When I was a child, I promised myself that I would get a puppy when became an adult, as I imagined every child has. That broken promise was just one of many oddly specific shattered childhood dreams, impractical or impossible for a variety of reasons: to get a tattoo of a dragon going up one arm, across my back, and down the other; to build a top-of-the-line computer and use a massive TV as a monitor; to own a penthouse apartment in New York with floor to ceiling windows.
But the damning blow was earlier last year when I was commuting home from a day trip to Montreal. This meant that I took the 6:30 flight into YUL and the 18:00 flight back to YYZ in the same day, a common occurrence for me during precedented times. Owing to the frequency of the trip, I was expected to take a reasonably convenient bus that came every half hour, five minutes before the hour, going to a station near my home.
Though the bus was usually on time, my flight that day was not. So after leaving home at 5:30 in the morning, a long day of meetings, leaving the office just past 17:15, getting a few minutes of much needed but unfulfilling sleep on the flight, and power walking through the domestic terminal to arrive at the bus station at 19:57, I found that the bus had left without me at precisely 19:55. Tight lipped, I answered emails until the next bus arrived at 20:20. I got on, took my usual seat at the front of an empty row which afforded some extra legroom, and waited for the bus to leave. As the driver was closing the doors, I saw a family of three exit the terminal with a trolley full of baggage. It was 20:25
Go. I silently willed the driver. Don’t wait. They can catch the next bus. On time performance is a success metric for you, isn’t it?
The driver opened his doors again, waited for the family to arrive, then stepped out of the bus to help them with their bags. Six minutes had passed. I watched as the family, relieved that they caught the bus and happy with that vacation afterglow, passed me one by one looking while for somewhere to sit. They sat a few rows back, and I could hear the little boy asking: Mommy, why does that man look so angry? before quickly being shushed.
I glanced side to side surreptitiously, positive that I had been the only one on the bus before they arrived. It took a casual glance backwards and the wide-eyed little boy quickly looking away for me to realize that I was the angry man in question. I felt my brow unfurling, my jaw loosening, and my fists unclenching as the realization settled in. That one took me a few days to get over.
It happened again this holiday season when I went back to my parents house to stay with my family. On Christmas Eve, my mother and sister were fairly insistent on watching a Christmas movie, and I was adamantly opposed, vetoing every single one of their suggestions, from It’s a Wonderful Life to Die Hard. The stalemate continued until they suggested I come up with a movie suggestion. I stomped up to my room and somehow ended down a rabbit hole of Christmas movies trailers. When I got to the fourth movie containing a cold businessperson learning about the true spirit of Christmas, it dawned on me that I was Ebenezer Scrooge who wouldn’t settle for a family movie.
In a blink of an eye, I went from that wide-eyed boy to the angry businessman, from Cindy Lou Who to The Grinch. In the end, I relented and we watched the first Home Alone movie. I was pleasantly surprised when I realized I had forgotten Joe Pesci was in the movie or likely just never knew who he was when I first watched it. Mostly though, I watched eight year-old Kevin McCallister played by Macaulay Culkin with all the naïveté of a ten year-old.
Growing old is weird. It creeps up slowly and discreetly, then all at once. Losing some range of motion and gaining weight is annoying, but comes with an aging body. Losing sincerity and gaining apathy is much worse. Does it have to come with more time spent on this planet?
So in addition to stretching for ten minutes a day and far less concrete, I’m going to try to lighten up a little. Stop and smell the flowers, and stop being so serious. Nothing so deliberate as a resolution, as mature as a plan. Just a thought to start off the year. And maybe, maybe, start becoming comfortable with the idea of adopting a cat.