August 20, 2018

a mile in someone else’s shoes. #WasNow

I got my F3 name because I showed up to launch without shoes. My best friend of over 20 years was getting a workout thing off the ground in Memphis, and he thought I should come. Truth be told, he had mentioned it a number of times, but I had things that required my attention. My employer expected me to work, my sons expected me to feed and play with them, and those dumbbells I bought at Bargain Hunt weren’t going to lift themselves (not that I was actually going to lift them either). Any chance he had of convincing me to come workout with him and a handful of random men I didn’t know was lost in my bermuda triangle of scape-goat responsibility.

One friday night, however, I found myself pinned into a corner. Circumstances had left me with unusual free time, so I met my friend and his bride for drinks after their dinner. (Laymen call this crashing your best friend’s date night, but they were gracious enough to pretend it otherwise.) We talked about life and all of its hopes and troubles. My friend in his cunning let me get a few good strides into some whiskey before he threw his sucker punch. He knew I was free the next day. He knew I was a strong breeze away from having Pizza Hut on speed dial. He had everything he needed to build his case. So what did he do?

He lied.

Judas. Lied to my face. “We just do some light running and pushups and sit-ups and stuff. You’ll be fine.” Unaware of his betrayal, I threw my hail mary. “I don’t have tennis shoes, man.” Crisis averted… for about 4 seconds. “What size shoes do you wear?” I’ve know this guy for 20 years. I know he doesn’t wear the same shoe size as me, so I confidently answer. “11.5s.”

“Oh you’re good. I’ve got some. Just come. I’ll bring them for you. Don’t be late.”

Son of a. Fine. I’ll be there.

And that was it. He had me. I had been emotionally headlocked. I showed up the next morning to a crowd of 40 strong. My friend pulled the shoes out of his bag, and I got them on about 10 seconds before some caddy named Bagger Vance from less than 901 started talking. I made it maybe 15 minutes before I was spread out counting all the black dots in the sky. My body was too busy looking for the off switch to have time to puke. That would have been easier. Instead, it just wallowed. While 40 other men bear crawled past me, I laid in the grass.

I’ll be honest. By minute 20, my self-loathing was at full steam. My recent separation had left the voices in my head plenty of ammunition. Each man that bear crawled, crawl beared, and ran past me (or at least the ones I could see through my hazy fog state) was a reminder of how I was uniquely gifted at managing to fall short. At some point, the men had run back to the starting point, and I thought I was fittingly alone.

I wasn’t.

My friend had come back. I’m not sure what he said first (not that I would have given the liar’s words any weight at that moment anyway), but he somehow was able to lend me emotional support while more importantly physically moving me forward.

“Sorry. You didn’t have to come back. Thanks though. I feel like I’m the only one failing at this, and I don’t think I can handle that right now.”

“Well then you haven’t been paying attention, because you’ve missed the other 4 guys throwing up. No man left behind.”

It was his way of reminding my not to be such a self-absorbed child. Maybe he’s a good friend after all.

Before I knew it, we were back with the group, just in time for me to lie back in the grass (this time as instructed) and pretend to do flutter-kicks. We counted off. Everyone went around the circle saying a bunch of words I didn’t understand. Then we circled up, and all the friendly new guys, myself included, got names.

That was my first of who knows how many F3 workouts over the past year (actually, I’m sure either Speaker or Soybean has that number somewhere, because spreadsheets). It took me a while to realize it, but that one workout significantly altered my trajectory. I was something a year ago. Now I’m something else.

Fitness. Fellowship. Faith. That saturday morning, I got my tail handed to me in a way I hadn’t in a long time, sure. But a year later, morning after morning of lunacy in the hot, cold, rain, snow, and everything in between (except lightening.. for the love of all things please don’t mention working out in lightening..), I find myself in the best shape I’ve ever been in. Like our 1st F Q (whose #WasNow post you should read), prior to F3 I had grown accustomed to eating and drinking what I wanted and had labeled the lack of weight gain “fitness”. I’m now 15 pounds of good weight heavier, can run a 5k pretty much on command (still hating most every second, though I’m working on it), and can wrestle and chase my sons for extended periods of time without having to convince them that they need a break. I still probably look better with my shirt on. I still get my tail handed to me. I’m not close to where I want to be. But goodness I’m so much further than I was a year ago. That makes the first F an easy check in my book.

The second F is also an easy check. I’ve already spoken of my best friend, Gus. He’s a lifetimer, F3 or not. But some of those other random guys I didn’t know a year ago. Those are game changers. I did not realize how much I needed male community in my life until it was sweating next to me. Men were meant to do things. It’s better if they do them together. Some of the men I stand, crawl, run, and push next to every morning have become dear friends. Those relationships are increasingly meaningful to me. Some of the other men I don’t talk to as much, but I trust many of them in a way I don’t trust just anybody. Some other men I may have never seen before in my life. Those are truly special.

A year ago, I was throwing myself an impromptu pity party when a friend lived out the tenant of “no man left behind.” It was a catalyst. Men of all ages and fitness have taken the daily red pill just to show up, and we don’t leave them behind. Ever. I don’t care who you are or how much you think of yourself—we all have and reach our limit. It is a beautiful thing when we reach it only to have a man circle back and say “i’ve got you, and you’ve got this. we started together. we’re finishing together.” A year ago, I was a sad clown. I was so focused on my own discomfort that I missed the opportunity to encourage guys who may have needed it more than I did. F3 has time and time again given me the opportunity to do that differently. We push ourselves daily, but primarily for the benefit of others. Those dumbbells in my corner haven’t taught me that yet.

As for the third F, it is the pearl. Faith can be a polarizing topic for some. At its most fundamental, though, we all live it. We all put our trust in something. Even if we haven’t defined it, we all bank on something to come through for us. One of the sayings in F3 is “It doesn’t get easier, you just get better.” Ignoring for now how inadequate I believe that saying is when you break it down to its parts, I do believe there is truth in the sentiment.

Life doesn’t get easier. It keeps coming. Often in ways you don’t want at a time you’d rather not. When your kid gets cancer. When you get divorced. When you lose your job. When you are fighting depression. When you are in over your head as a parent. When you’re out of steam, everything hurts, and someone keeps shouting at you to keep moving, what is going to keep you going? What am I trusting to get me through?

I’ve lived with myself long enough to know I’m going to fall short. I was married to someone I love, and she couldn’t bear the weight of my soul. My sons are sleeping in the next room, and as much as I love them, they will let me down. My job and professional achievement haven’t gotten me through. I’ve had some amazing sex in my life, and it was never enough. Money has come and gone.

It all falls short.

Faith. Do push-ups make me less angry when my kids do that thing for what has to be the hundredth time? No. When I lie awake at night fearful of loneliness and idle living and whether I really have what it takes, do I find soul-level comfort knowing I didn’t puke after foot-racing Bookworm, again, in between an obnoxious number of burpees? No. But as I push myself to my limit time and time again, I remember that I’m not the source of my strength. Even when my body is quitting on me because I still can’t catch Four Eyes, the light of day peaks through, and I remember there is an artist behind the rising sun. Even if I have to literally crawl across the ground like a baby, I know I can keep moving. I know I’m not alone. The guys next to me know it too. Because at the end of the day we know we are tapping into something bigger and better than ourselves.

F3 is more than a workout. We all show up for a beatdown. We come back for something else.

Jason McCuistion