Monday, 14 May 2012

The Walk of Life

All that we treasure, our loved ones, our friends, our body, our mind, are but on loan to us. We must surrender them all. | Ghost, 1990

Ghost | Screengrab from DVD

Whoa. That’s a fairly morbid quote to open with but I have a point, I promise.

This past weekend, my sister and I took part in the MoonWalk, a 26.2-mile walk through London, bedecked in a decorated bra to raise money and awareness for breast cancer. Our cousin also took part, walking the 13.1-mile Half Moon, but we got to walk the first ten miles together which was brilliant. And we all had personal reasons for taking part.

My training buddy set off at a faster pace after half a mile and stayed about three miles ahead for the most part of the walk. But Sis, Cousin and I found it less easy to weave in a group through the hordes of people so we had to hold back.

The route took us out of Hyde Park, along Embankment, into Battersea then Kensington, and back again, and by the time my sister and I reached the 23rd mile and were reunited with my training buddy we were almost dead on our feet. There were over 15,000 people taking part, and the pavements were full to capacity meaning we couldn’t quite get into our 4mph stride so we never quite broke our pain barrier.

However, WE FINISHED! After nine very, very long hours, long toilet queues and ridiculously long pauses to cross the road, we finished! That last mile, through Hyde Park, nearly killed us. The previous 25 miles had been a figurative walk in the park compared to what we term the Green Mile but we did it. Our parents were there to greet us before we reached the finish, then at the finish line, and it was an incredibly emotional experience. I’d done it before but it had never felt like such a feat.

The end is nigh...

Getting home was a trial – we got a taxi back to Victoria and it was hard work getting out of the cab; our legs had seized up and everything ached! My sister caught the tube home, and my walking buddy and I grabbed a much-needed coffee before catching the train – a painfully slow stopping service needless to say! Argh!!!

Everything hurt like never before, and we had blisters on the blisters on top of blisters on our feet, and heat rash, and sore ankles and knees.

But as I described in one of my many superfluous Facebook posts, it was that “I’ve done something” pain that you can almost pair with pleasure. (Almost.)

A couple of weeks before the walk I was in the gym when I caught sight of my body in one of the cruel, cruel mirrors running along one wall. I felt somewhat disgusted by the saddlebags, and the stumpy legs, and the carb paunch that won’t go away.

Even now when I look at the photos taken during the walk of me alongside my sister, cousin and walking buddy I turn into one of Gok Wan’s protégées in How to Look Good Naked and zone in on what I consider my ‘problem areas’ – see above. Stomach. Stumpy legs. (Admittedly the three of us, my sister, cousin and I, are all quite short, with little legs! We even wore badges proclaiming our pride in this genetic disposition!)

I'm the stumpy one on the right!

But here’s the thing:

That stumpy, less-than-perfect body of mine still got me through a marathon.

I trained for hours in the gym (and I’m no gym bunny as I’ve mentioned before). My walking buddy and I went out twice weekly and clocked up miles on the roads. And come the night itself there was never any doubt in any of our minds that we would finish. Even as we walked the Green Mile we saw the end in sight and we knew we were just a few yards away from completing a 26.2-mile slog. 

Another of our cousins sent us a link to an article published on the Daily Mail website yesterday about the walk, focusing mostly on the celebrity participants including comedian Jennifer Saunders who has taken part in the MoonWalk several times before (I think I overtook her at Hyde Park Corner back in 2007 when I last did it!).

Read it here.

What alarmed me though were some of the negative readers’ comments on the article. Some people have missed the point completely and are going so far as to say we are all sinners, parading our bodies in public. Some of the comments also suggest that the only women who should be walking such in a state of undress are the likes of a Hollyoaks actress who happens to be slim and toned – so, those of us who have a little more flesh to boot need not apply?

Some perspective, please!

One of the huge draws of the MoonWalk is that it encourages women (and men) of all shapes and sizes to take pride and celebrate their bodies and their achievements. Strip away the spangly bras (figuratively) and see that what we’re all doing is walking a considerable distance. For some that’s easy, for others, it’s a massive feat. For all of us it’s an achievement. Sometimes the capacity of our bodies surprises us.

Which brings me, slightly spuriously, closer to my original point.

At the risk of sounding moribund, I think about death a lot.

I was on the train a couple of weeks ago, reading Alice Hoffman’s The Story Sisters which began as a supernatural return to form and progressed into a wholly depressing tale of lives spiralling out of control, with a disproportionate body count.

At one point, one character stricken with terminal illness makes plans to be buried alongside another family member. Which is a reassuring sentiment on the surface but then got me thinking, how will they know? Once they’ve died, what will it matter where they are? How will they know where they are? And where will they be? (This thought process happened at about 7.45 in the morning – a cheery start to the day…)

And this progressed onto how will I know? Where will I be? What will happen? When will it end? (God willing not for another sixty years at least but who knows?) And how will it end?

I had to slam the book shut as it had opened this Pandora’s Box of Morbid Thoughts of the Unknown that I didn’t particularly want to entertain on my morning commute.

One train of thought led to another slightly more uplifting set of thoughts:

How was I chosen to be who I am and live the life I’ve lived in the era I’ve lived in?
How was I selected to be my parents’ first daughter? (And how did I get so lucky with the parents I was given?)
What have I done with my life so far to make a mark on this world?

Thoughts like the last one are what drive me to take on challenges like the MoonWalk.

I’d be the first to admit that there are things I’ve done in my life that I regret.

And then there are the things I’ve done that I’m proud of. Even down to the most basic things like making and keeping friends.

Writing books. Taking photographs. Making that mark on the world.

My point is this: when we’re born we slide into a body that is ours for the duration of our living years whether we like it or not.

What we do with it in the interim is up to us.

My mortal body may be a bit stumpy of leg. It may not be as toned as perhaps it could be. It might have a hankering for carbs that it then can’t always process.

But it’s mine, and it’s done me proud this weekend.

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