The heavy bag was really moving, noisily twisting and straining under its own weight. I had to use both hands to catch it, stop it, settle it down before I laid into it again with all the emotion built up inside me.
Even with gloves and wraps on, my knuckles on both hands were deep red and scratched in the morning.
We were supposed to rotate stations every four minutes: from the heavy bag to the long rope, to a set of burpees and wall sits and push-ups and crunches and a few other strenuous exercises I can’t remember the names of.
By the time I left the one-hour class, you could wring sweat from my shirt. I was twice as old as anyone else in the class, which was in a tiny one-room gym near campus, and one of the few men. I didn’t care about either. I didn’t care about the other exercises.
All I wanted to do was hit that bag.
The teacher came over and held the bag for me so I could get more punches in. Thankful for the help I gathered even more strength than before. The teacher was in shape but must have been a foot shorter than me. With each punch of the bag, she was moved back, almost trapped between it and the wall. She left me and the bag alone.
The annoying buzzer went off, indicating it was time to rotate stations. I didn’t want to rotate. I kept pummeling the bag. “It’s time to switch. You go over there next,” she said, pointing to a spot three feet away. Jumping over plastic steps into a squat or something like that. Fuck that.
“I don’t want to switch,” I said. I couldn’t see the teacher’s eyes because there was too much sweat on my glasses and I couldn’t wipe off my glasses because I was wearing boxing gloves. “I want to hit the bag more.”
“You’ll get another shot at the bag later in the class,” she said. “But now you have to move and rotate to the next station. Take off your gloves. You’ve got 30 seconds until the next rotation starts.”
I was pissed. I kind of knew I wanted to delve into boxing as exercise, that’s how I wound up at this gym in the first place. I didn’t realize, more than just getting in a good workout on a weekend morning, was what I really wanted to do was fight.
I work in fundraising for my day job, spending lots of time writing, creating and producing e-mail solicitations. In a previous job in the same field, as a consultant, I worked with dozens of organizations over the years, helping them with the same.
There is a heavy focus on copywriting and language, particularly the language of action: inspiring, moving, challenging, getting people to stop what they are doing and give money now.
That language, even more so in my current role, focuses on fighting. On standing up for what you believe in. On the battle for what we want to achieve, on our fight to protect wildlife, their habitat and the laws that both depend on to survive.
We won’t relent. We won’t give up. We are in for the long-haul. Despite the losses and struggles, even though the wins, we will keep up our fight.
And it’s not just copied in a mass e-mail. One of the things I love about where I work is the passion of the staff. These are people who have dedicated their professional and intellectual lives to a cause. It shows in their work, the way they communicate, the way they push themselves and others to not give up. To always lead the way in what we believe is right. It is a contentious group with highly opinionated, strong personalities. The standard of professionalism is as high as I’ve ever seen, the programmatic drive to fulfill our mission is alive, as if a force, each day, in each meeting, in every all-staff e-mail.
And there’s a one-word explanation for all of that.
The people with whom I work don’t just love what they do. They love the cause. They love wildlife. And it is a deep love, an intensely personal one, an uncompromising one. The kind of love that if you don’t share it, you won’t fit in. The kind of love that guides you, powers you, motivates you, directs you.
This is not the first time I’ve felt or experienced this kind of love in a professional setting. Working in the non-profit space can often lead you to the people who are committed to their work despite the sacrifice of the long hours, usually lower pay and frequent setbacks one faces in the cause sector.
It’s also not the first time I’ve felt this kind of love in my heart.
If you’ve read any of my pieces, you know that I’ve been experiencing and processing a difficult break-up from a relationship that lasted two and a half years, which was formed from a friendship that lasted much longer. It’s what prompted me, in part, to start writing on Medium.
For several years I served on the board of directors of a local non-profit, one with a mission to teach kids and their families about nutrition and health. While I am no longer involved in that way I still attend the annual fundraiser. I had taken my ex-girlfriend to these in the past and it was very difficult to attend this year’s event alone.
It’s something I’ve had to get used to. It takes more energy than I thought to keep up my regular life, and more, to expand it. To be more social, to reach out to more people. To not isolate me.
At the fundraiser, I purchased a set of five boxing classes, which is how I wound up at the gym I mentioned before. (It turns out to be more cardio-based than actual boxing classes, but it’s still a great workout. When I use up all my classes, I intend to start taking actual boxing lessons someplace else.)
I have been flooded with anger. And pain. And frustration and loss. It’s not very complicated. While it’s true I’ve had an interest in boxing for a while, and have long wanted to give it a shot, it boils down to this: lifting weights and running on an elliptical machine wasn’t cutting it.
I wanted to hit something.
I didn’t realize how much or how badly. I didn’t realize how much I’d be drawn to it. I didn’t know how much of my physical self I could pour into pounding a heavy bag.
These classes drain me. I can only take them on the weekends because I usually wind up needing a nap afterward. I am still ambivalent about getting in the actual ring with another person, out of fear of taking a punch.
But I’ve taken so many already, if not physical ones, then emotional ones. And when I thought about it, sitting in my car a few blocks from the gym, after changing my shirt, so drained that it felt like a burden just to lift my arms to place them on the steering wheel, I realized I wasn’t just letting out pain and anger.
In my deepest of hearts, I was fighting. I was fighting for what I want. I was fighting for what I feel. Yes, with each punch I thought of my former girlfriend. Not out of anger, not out of resentment.
I wasn’t pretending to fight her. I was imagining fighting for us. For the beauty that was us.
For our love. For the existence and presence of love itself. For the very core of what I felt (feel?) is the most important thing in life. Love.
The single most important thing worth fighting for.
I am no longer naïve to the point that I believe love is enough when it comes to relationships. If it were only true. The love I’ve felt for my romantic partners was/is so full and complete I still don’t fully understand how either of us was able to walk away. There will always be lingering doubt, and not a little, that it was a mistake to dismiss love.
At the same time, even though love is not enough to stay in a relationship, neither is fear – of pain, sadness, rejection, hurt, disappointment, of failing our significant others – a reason to jettison love.
When fear conquers love, we lose our soul, we lose what is best in us. This is as true in romantic love as it is in social policy. We should love our neighbors, not fear them. We should bestow love upon those needing assistance, not denigrate or penalize them.
The opposite of love does not hate, because love and hate exist on the same spectrum. The opposite of love is fear.
In relationships, there is always the unknown, the unforeseen, the unpredictable. And there will inevitably be sadness and there will be times when you fall short, to ourselves, and to those we love.
But we can’t fear those realities. We must trust that our love will endure and see us through. In that regard, love is enough, in that it can support us through disappointments, failings and mistakes.
When we give ourselves over to the love we feel, for ourselves and for other people, or even to a cause, we bond and connect in ways that make us feel alive. When we allow fear to guide our actions, to cause us to hesitate or back away, we succumb in ways that suffocate our humanity and then travel down dark roads of loneliness, resentment and regret.
Love can inspire anger. Love can make us brash and fierce. Love makes us try harder and not give up. Loves make us fight further than we thought possible, it makes us continue to hit the heavy bag when we feel our energies are spent.
I’ve felt that love. I still do. I don’t want to let go. And if it turns out that love is unrequited, then I will direct it elsewhere. To myself. To my community or to a cause. To a passion for reading and writing. To the Earth and all living creatures. To my family and friends.
There’s a stark truism within the environmental sector that, that, the more I think about it, is actually deeply resonant to much of the work we do as humans – professionally, romantically, socially.
Our losses can be permanent, but our wins are always temporary.
I feel this way about relationships sometimes. When we get it right, it is glorious, an overwhelming joy. But we must always keep it up tomorrow, maintaining connection, igniting and tending to that bond. In a way, the fight for love never ends.
In the film Gattaca, Ethan Hawke’s character, Vincent, engages in a swimming contest with his genetically superior brother. They swim out in a large body of water, pushing each other to see who can go farther, knowing they each have to have the energy and stamina to swim back to shore. Ethan Hawke’s character should always lose…but he always wins. Finally, his brother asks him how he does it. “I never saved anything for the swim back,” Vincent says.
I’m not endorsing recklessness, carelessness, or disregard for what you know to be right, or for safety and health.
But I wonder how our lives would be different if we didn’t save anything for later. If we love and pursue with abandon, with all of us, not parts of us. If we sublimate our fear and our insecurity, even those things we do to protect ourselves, and instead chase and fight with a fierceness we don’t always know we have.
There is a risk to this. We expose ourselves to failure, and injury, and disappointment and pain. All those things are easily avoided and kept at bay if, unlike Vincent, we never get in the water with all we have. But that is a life consumed by fear.
I choose love. I choose waking up each day, and asking myself, after a moment of gratitude that I’m still here, with all the possibility that today brings, what can I do in pursuit of love?
It’s not always glamorous. Sweeping and vacuuming my floors, scrubbing sinks and toilets, is not my idea of a good time. But I love having a clean home and take pride in it.
I don’t particularly enjoy the gym. Being on an elliptical machine for 30 minutes, or lifting heavy metal bars in various ways, is boring, weird and tiring. But I love the way it makes me feel, and I love being healthy.
There can be love in all we do, even the mundane. And when it comes to other people, friends, family, lovers, I find that acts of love, be they grand gestures or tiny ones, not only make others feel good but ourselves too.
Right now as I write this it is a quiet, drizzly morning. Cars are beginning to stream past my front window, light has risen. I can hear birds outside.
A full workday lies ahead, then the weekend. I will see two concerts this weekend; going to see live music is an old passion of mine. I have dinner plans with a group of writers, and another meeting about a live event in a few months to which I’ll be contributing. I have to go to the drug store and the dry cleaners. I have to sweep those floors and clean the sinks.
In quiet moments like these, I ask myself, “how do I move forward?” What can I do, right now, that is something aligned with my passions? How can I imbue what I’m doing, right now, with love?
Even my job, which can be exhausting, frustrating, overwhelming and difficult, when I take a step back, affords me this opportunity. I love supporting myself and I love knowing I am responsible, dedicated and trustworthy. I love knowing that what I do has a real impact on wildlife and our planet.
I love that right now, you are reading this. And I love watching words populate my computer screen, as I continue to chase and follow my love for the written word.
If I didn’t have plans to be out late tonight I’d take another of the boxing/cardio classes in the morning. I still have a few credited to me.
I still want to hit that bag. I still want to see that bag move and feel my arms and hands weaken as I tire myself out. It’s at that moment when I really want to see what kind of punch I have left in me.
In that moment, I don’t conjure anger or hurt or disappointment. Or fear of having to stop and not having enough to go on. No.
Instead, I think of what it is I love.
It’s the only way to keep on fighting.
It’s ultimately what we fight for: what and who we love, and love itself.
And I won’t stop.
Previously published on Psiloveyou.xyz.
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