Well, I bit the bullet and bought a stationary bike. I used to take spin classes at the YMCA pre-COVID, but then, when COVID hit, our family dropped our gym membership. Last spring, I started walking or jogging outside when the weather was nice, but then the weather turned not-so-nice and any exercise I was getting came to a screeching halt.
My body felt it as I started putting on the weight that others have called the “COVID-19.” My mind morphed into the “pandemic brain.” I had troubled making decisions and getting small tasks completed in a timely manner. My body needed a nap every day, sometimes two naps a day. Like lots of other people, I was struggling to make it through this pandemic. I felt half dead, and I knew that something had to change. So I bought the bike. It was one change I could make without risking exposure to COVID and while remaining quarantined in home. Since then, I’ve gotten up between 5:30 and 6:30 A.M. six days a week to ride 30-45 minutes at a time.
I have fallen into a new morning routine. I get up before anyone else in my house is awake. It’s still dark outside, though I can occasionally see a light on at our neighbor’s house across the street, a sign that the world is gradually waking up with me to a new day. I quickly change into the workout gear that I’ve laid out the night before. I don’t bother turning on my own lights; I just ride in the dark. I don’t need to see where I’m going. I don’t bother brushing my teeth or my hair; no one can see (or, thank God, smell) me. I push my ear buds in, crank up both the volume and the beat, clip into the pedals and go.
The warmth in my body builds quickly, as do the beads of sweat on my skin. My heart rate rises and rises and rises, sometimes until the point when I think I might die clipped into that bike. But I don’t die. Instead, something miraculous happens. Instead, my heart pumps rich, oxygenated blood throughout my body, to both my toes and my brain. I can feel my muscles working, pushing with every pedal stroke, becoming stronger. And the miracle I experience is that of simply feeling, once again, alive. I. Am. Alive. I can make decisions again. I can complete tasks. I have more energy.
Yes, I am alive. And so are you. We are living beings, interconnected to one another and to this world of which we are a part.
My faith tradition — Christianity — has a lot to say about life and death, or rather (let’s get the order straight) about death and life. This is the time of the year when we place the greatest emphasis on that pattern. This is the time of the year when we are surrounded by signs of life — flowers blooming, trees budding, longer days and the return of birds, bunnies and butterflies. In a remarkable move, Christianity took this season of life and layered on top of it the story of resurrection, of death losing its sting, of life prevailing once and for all.
My exercise regime is not about becoming the most fit person, or about fitting my body into societal norms that harm so many people. It’s not even about losing weight. I exercise in order to feel my heart beating and to get the blood pumping throughout my body. I exercise in order to remind myself of the gift of life. And the bike sits in my guest room, an invitation on the days when I feel less than alive, to clip in and remember that life always follows death.
Life follows death. Yes, at that moment when these finicky bodies of ours finally give out and we breathe our last breaths. But life follows death in so many other ways until we get to this point. I pray that, in this season, each of you can move your bodies so that your heart rate rises just enough to remind you that you are alive, and then, that you live into that life and all its many gifts.
The Rev. Emily K. Hartner is a North Carolina native and has lived in Charlotte for over 10 years. She is the Pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, a Reconciling in Christ (RIC) congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) with a mission of “Loving Not Judging.” In her spare time, she enjoys riding her exercise bike, laughing with her five-year-old son and experimenting with watercolors.
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