Saturday, April 24, 2010




: free from defect, disease, or infirmity : sound; also : retaining exceptional health and vigor

The etymology of this word suggests that, unlike synonyms "robust" and the general "healthy," HALE applies specifically to exceptional vigor present an older person who retains physical qualities of youth. Someone like Keith Richards comes to mind in the most generic sense, but what I really want to talk about here is my parents.

My parents as individuals (they never existed to me as a unit) both pride themselves on their HALENESS. My father spent a portion of his youth as a semi-professional boxer (I don't really know what semi-professional suggests; I know I've heard the venue Madison Square Garden mentioned with reverence). When I was a child he would always prompt me to feel the concreteness of his arms; "That's all muscle," he would say, as though this made up for what he lacked as a father. His figure felt domineering to me as a young girl. Hugging him was like getting folded into the side of a mountain.

My mother exudes a similar pride, although she is hardly as showy about it. Her claim to HALENESS is that she bore four children while barely retaining a pound after each pregnancy. Her self-satisfaction centers around will-power and moderation—the ability to maintain in a world of temptations. She rolled her eyes when Snackwells cookies hit the market: "I don't understand why these people can't just eat one real cookie instead of an entire box of fat free ones." We once had a car with a dysfunctional driver's side door and my mother used to climb in and out of the window. She was less exalted about her audacity than she was about her ability to fit her body through the small space.

When my parents appear together in shared space (highly infrequently) they, without fail, validate each other on their good looks and youthful shapeliness, usually in the form of telling me the other one still looks great. "Your mother doesn't look a day older than she did when I met her," or, "Your father is strong, Candace." I just nod my head.

For some time I didn't understand this impulse to boost one's ego based on his or her ability to physically maintain. I thought this was shallow and not worthy of commendation. But the fog clouding this notion is clearing a bit. Approaching thirty I begin to notice the effects that beer and eating out and taking the elevator have on people my age. As our metabolisms join in a chorus moving toward the larghissimo, I have begun to pride myself on being ahead of the game. I already eat healthy and exercise, probably because of my parents, so I can skip the lapse into overindulgence and, essentially, maintain.

I feel like this should make me feel vain or shallow, but it doesn't. I actually just feel conscientious.

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