“You’re doing it again.”
“Doing what?” I ask.
“That thing,” Sara answers. “That thing with your hand. You don’t even realize you’re doing it.”
I smile, embarrassed. My wife’s caught me. Whenever my right hand’s free, say, when I’m waiting in line at the supermarket, it tends to dart to my waistline. My thumb plunges into the skin above my hip. My four fingers lift the bulge below. Then my makeshift calipers squeeze, sandwiching skin to fat. If I’m especially anxious, my right hand may linger there for a while, pinching and releasing, pinching and releasing, until its opposable-thumbed dexterity is needed for more productive activities.
Or until Sara says, “Ben, just relax. You’re fine. You’re beautiful. Practice body love.”
She says it just like that, with a grin. Practice body love. The phrase is so sweet, so Sara, blending just the right mix of empathy, humor, new-age yoga-inspired banality and tough love. I can’t help but grin myself. I can’t help but roll my eyes and, with a tiny chuckle, allow my hand to drop.
Practice body love. In the depths of winter, trudging through global warming’s single-digit backlash, how do I practice body love? How do I practice body love when my body hungers for peanut butter, olive oil, cheese, chili, Chinese takeout, Guinness, red wine and bar after bar of dark chocolate? How do I practice body love when my body aches to expand, to protect itself, to throw on layer upon layer of comforting cellulite and hunker down until spring?
To love is to listen. Yet, when I love, when I listen, when I feed my body with the rich comforts of a seasonally appropriate diet (save the Chinese takeout), my midline rewards me with a little more, every day, for my hand to squeeze. And the more I have to squeeze, the more I feel out of control, a victim of winter, of the elements, of weak will and rebel desire. I feel a victim of love itself. Love delights and disarms. Love dips a spoon into the honey jar, licks it clean, then chases it with peanut butter, chocolate and HBO, as, all the while, my mind huddles in a corner whispering, “Calm blue ocean, calm blue ocean, calm blue ocean…”.
I will do it, Sara. I will practice body love. I will let go. But a part of me will also resist, the part that eyes a tabloid cover of Matthew McConaughey, his shirtless perfection paddle boarding above a calm, blue Caribbean, his photoshopped physique not as disarming as the honey jar, but enviable enough to awaken my right hand. It rises to my side, squeezing a message in morse code that reads: “Would that be, could that be, should that be me.”
Love will have to make room for what I see, what I know, what, for decades, I’ve desired. Love will have to be patient as we wait out this winter, squeezed between the body and the deep, blue sea.