This morning, I set out for a run.
I love exercise. In the hardest seasons of living here, I have discovered that if I can get out and move, most things will be okay. In the most challenging seasons of depression, daily movement has helped me in more ways than one.
So sometimes I run.
And sometimes we ride bicycles. Stephen just gifted me a new bicycle for my birthday–my first mountain bike here in Mae Sot!–and it’s amazing. Some of my favorite times with Stephen in Mae Sot are long mornings and evenings cycling around our city, into surrounding villages. We have so many memories of cycling through the rain and across ridiculous roads and running into cows. There was that one time I got a flat tire at the furthest point from humanity we were riding, and we had to walk our bicycles back about 5 kilometers before we found a man in a little random shop of antiques (not an antique shop, mind you, just a shop of antique things) where he found a tire patch and sorted us out. And he looked just like a Burmese version of Harrison Ford, which of course we didn’t know existed. Now we do, thanks to our bicycle adventures.
Most days of the week, we head to the pool to swim laps. It’s our favorite, as our temperatures rarely go below 80 around here and often are up over 100 degrees. Stephen swims about 4000 meters a week these days, and I trail behind at about 3600m.
Exercise has been such a gift since we got here. It benefits our mental, social, emotional, & physical health.
To our neighbors, it is absurd that we go to the pool as often as we do. They know our pool bag, and look shocked when we go in the morning, because it is too cold. They are shocked when we go in the middle of the day, because we will be in the sun and get darker. They are shocked when we go at night, because we will get sick. And really, they are just baffled that we will spend that much time going back and forth in water, turning browner and redder.
And when we bike, they ask where we are going: why would leave now, at 6pm? You are just going to bicycle out there and then…come back? Why? That is the longest possible way to get…nowhere. For their lives, bicycles are their main transport. They bike slowly and steadily to get to work, the market, doctors, and more; sometimes carrying their families along. Every day, every month, and every year.
And when I go for a run as I did this morning, I am the only one. They now know where I go and why. They ask about my watch that measures the distance, and they listen in on my music while I tie my shoes. They are amazed when I return dripping with sweat, and the kids wipe it off my arm and face, perhaps to “help” and perhaps just in pure curiosity.
Exercise is weird to them, and I know that. That was obvious from the first time I went for a ran and received countless stares, and it continued today as I received countless stares. The hotel staff are even baffled that we’d swim as often as we do; the Burmese Harrison Ford didn’t understand what we were doing in the middle of nowhere sweaty and tired.
But the more you spend time in higher classes, the more exercise is normal. If you run in other parts of town, you get thumbs up and “Good job!”
I have been struck so often of the privilege exercise is. It is an activity of wealth. I can run because I have shoes, and the watch & music make it pretty enjoyable. I can bike because I have a bicycle, and one great enough that I enjoy being on it for a few hours. I can swim because I have a swimsuit and goggles, and because I pay a membership at this pretty amazing pool, where I can swim laps or sit and read or even shower when I am out of water.
Even further, I have the time in the day to exercise. I know for those with kids, that might not be true. But most of us do have so much that adds more time into our days: I have a washing machine that allows me to not wash my clothes by hand; I have a job that is flexible; I have a fridge that allows me to store for more than just a day (and thus go to the shop daily); I have a rice cooker and crock pot and all sorts of ease-inducing kitchen tools. I even have a shower, so once I do exercise, I can be clean without dragging up buckets of well water. Oh, and due to that handy washing machine, I can throw my sweaty clothes in the wash and put on new clothes without a second thought. Because I also have a shelf of clothing to spare.
Exercise requires abundance; it requires excess.
And today, I as ran, I realized yet another form where exercise requires excess. Exercise requires excess calories, too.
In the simplest form, I exercise so that I can continue to fit in the pair of jeans I can only buy in America. If you only come with one size of jeans in your bag, you’ve got to stay in them. If I stop exercising for too long, I’ll gain weight. And because of this, I can conclude the simple fact that I am intaking more than I am utilizing. So I must utilize more to keep off weight.
This is a fact in my life: I eat more than I use. So I run|swim|bike. I exercise out of my excess calories.
Meanwhile, our neighbors struggle to gain weight. They struggle to eat enough to cover their energy uses: the energy needed to bike to work and build a house in the sun; the energy to shower and wash clothes by hand using bucket after bucket of water pulled up from a well; the energy to get to the store for their daily food items.
And the kids, simply walking down the street to sit in classes at school? They are fighting malnutrition. They are struggling to eat enough to counteract their sitting in class. So while I exercise away my excess, they eat away starvation.
I am so often struck at how much excess is a part of me. Privilege is a part of me.
I might exercise so I can be healthy, or eat a salad because the vegetables are good for me. I might read a book to improve my mind, soul, or marriage. I might learn a new task to expand my skills and mind. I might listen to music and appreciate art; or paint a picture. I might set a new goal. All of this out of privilege.
Those trips to the museum? Those books I read last year? Those New Year’s resolutions? They were out of privilege.
It is because I have been taught to always be improving and to always be learning. I have the extra brain space and budget space and time space to do all of these things. Even in all of our comments to one another of how busy we are and all the things we have going on, so much of it is out of excess.
And I just keep pondering this. I have so many questions about why me and why them. But mostly, those questions can’t be answered right now, while I only see in part. Sometimes I have guilt, but I don’t think that gets us very far. Sometimes I am called to make changes and sacrifices.
Mostly, I think its vital for me to know–to know my privilege, to know my excess, and know the abundance I walk in. I just want to go forward in awareness, that I might not take it for granted. So much of me wants to go forward with such gratefulness, where I don’t put on my tennis shoes or pound the pavement or turn in the pool or start my washer or renew my passport without utter gratefulness.