Dealing In The Tangible

Bach and My Father by Paul Zimmer

Six days a week my father sold shoes
To support our family through depression and war,
Nursed his wife through years of Parkinson's,
Loved nominal cigars, manhattans, long jokes,
Never kissed me, but always shook my hand.

Once he came to visit me when a Brandenburg
Was on the stereo. He listened with care--
Brisk melodies, symmetry, civility, and passion.
When it finished, he asked to hear it again,
Moving his right hand in time. He would have
Risen to dance if he had known how.

"Beautiful," he said when it was done,
My father, who'd never heard a Brandenburg.
Eighty years old, bent, and scuffed all over,
Just in time he said, "That's beautiful."

"Bach and My Father" by Paul Zimmer, from Crossing to Sunlight Revisited. (c) The University of Georgia Press, 2007. Found in The Writer's Almanac, June 28.

I thought it might happen, and people who know me figured it would.

Here I am in the fitness business. So rarely does the impostor syndrome hit that I sometimes push myself to the edge of doubt: What do you think you're doing here, leading an exercise class? Who are you to try and solve that lady's back problems? I pass my own test every time; I know what I know.

When I come home from work, my husband asks, Changing lives again today? Because this business of the body is directly connected to everything else, as I've often written. I can't tell you how many times I've had a client cry during a session over something highly personal--the body business brings it all out. Too, the mere regular proximity of these sweating bodies and the familiar and kindred spirits they contain bring out the personal. You haven't seen me awhile because I've been depressed. My girlfriend left me. My husband--same old stuff. I work with the whole person, not just the muscles and bones.

But what has happened, predictably, is this: the work is so tangible I have lost sight of the thin places, as the Irish call them, those areas that can't be pinned down by the location of the knee above the foot or a right balance of fat, carbs and protein. I'm so busy figuring out things for people that I've all but forgotten there are things that are beyond us. Things we can't see. Artists address these in poems, in music. But we all sit in these places, whether or not we have the language to address them, or the ability to dance. I've forgotten that, and am becoming dull. Sad, even.

In the manner of the prescriptions I dole out, I am changing my diet: more poetry, more beauty, more contemplation of what cannot be contained in a diagram. Just in time. Won't you join me?


  1. "I am changing my diet: more poetry, more beauty, more contemplation of what cannot be contained in a diagram."

    Beautifully said. (Margaret's recent poetry/children post made me think the same. Clearly two voices in my life at the very same time is a divine message.)

    Count me in. I shall read physics, the most beautiful language I know. Also Mary Oliver.


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