At 63, Beth Kephart wrestles once again with an old obsession.
You are less than you were. You are on notice:
You are averaging fewer steps a day this year than last year.
You’re walking and running less than you usually do by this point.
Walking speed: declining.
Stairs climbed: Fewer.
Character assessment: Your indolence is showing.
Your phone has one glass stinger and it won’t stop jabbing. It’s mean as a cicada killer, plunging its poison in, dragging you down to its underground lair, leaving you hollow inside the hollow of self-recrimination.
“That thing wasn’t made for people like you,” your husband says, unnecessarily, as if you are not yourself aware of your anorectic history, your talent for self-sabotage, your slight obsessive-compulsive streak, against which you have battled for most of your existence.
If only you’d stopped reading that book and paced aimlessly instead. (More steps.) If only, while making the brownie dough, you’d turned on Springsteen and danced. (Better steps.) If only you’d disobeyed the caution label on the antibiotics bottle and walked three miles in the blazing sun. (Bonus steps.) If only you’d run up and down the stairs and instead of squatting on the third one up, talking with quiet concentration to your most beloved son, your cherished former student, your mother’s best friend, your neighbor’s daughter (Best steps.). Your laziness does not belong to you. It belongs to the health trends tracker.
“That thing wasn’t made for people like you,” your husband says, unnecessarily, as if you are not yourself aware of your anorectic history, your talent for self-sabotage, your slight obsessive-compulsive streak, against which you have battled for most of your existence. As if you do not know yourself that there are voices in your head.
You’ve spent years breaking free from your worst habits, years of easing into pleasure, years shattering the bonds of unseemly discipline and rigor, and you were doing just fine, or at least you were doing better, until your husband’s niece, on holiday from London, joined you for a walk through Philadelphia. East and west, south and north you went—from the Delaware to the Schuylkill, from the Italian Market to Rittenhouse Square, from Independence Mall to Delancey Street, from gelato to sandwiches, from stories she told to stories your husband told to the few interesting things you could remember.
You’d had a day of it, a truly brilliant time. You were half in love with this young woman and her rapidly unfolding future, her charming nonchalance, her trill of laughter, when, toward the expedition’s end, she mentioned her health trends tracker. She opened her iPhone. She showed you her numbers. You stuttered in amazement.
“What?” you said.
“You have one, too,” this lithe and so unfettered young woman said, this darling who didn’t care much about the number of her steps, who was too smart to be ruled by them. This embodiment of carefreeness, who viewed her steps with casual, enviable curiosity; if you envied anything about her, it was the casual, non-obsessive quality of her curiosity. She reached gently for your phone. She swiped and there it was, where it had always been, your own personal, tyrannical health trends tracker and steps counter.
You’ve spent years breaking free from your worst habits, years of easing into pleasure, years shattering the bonds of unseemly discipline and rigor, and you were doing just fine, or at least you were doing better, until your husband’s niece, on holiday from London, joined you for a walk through Philadelphia.
“Please don’t get obsessed with that,” my husband said, looking over my shoulders.
“I’m better than that,” you assured him, brushed him off with a shrug and a huff. Because hadn’t he watched you, through the years, shatter your own intransigency, your fun-killing, life-sucking inflexibilities? Couldn’t he trust you with this, you being in your early 60s now, you being a woman fully aware of, invested in, the stuff in life that matters, which is to say the spontaneous, the spark, the unforeseen, unscripted embers?
But the truth, it seems, is worse than that. The truth is that old habits don’t just die hard, they do not die, at least with you, at least in this very instance. For here you are, months away from that day in Philadelphia: whisked back to an early version of yourself. Here you are: suborned. You wear your phone with its tracker as if it’s lock and key. You want credit for steps you have not taken. You lower your shoulders to the thrashing of the numbers. You agree: Your indolence is showing.
And now this thought as you sit writing your confession: You are sitting, you’re just sitting, while you’re writing your confession.
Get up, you think. Do a crazy carefree jig. Improve your outlook, or your average.
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