One of my biggest challenges since moving to Houston has been getting enough exercise. Unlike my life in Oslo, walking is not a mode of transport here. On an average day in Oslo, my iPhone app told me that I walked between 7,500 and 12,000 steps a day, and this, without counting my running or other exercise. Here in Houston, I struggle to get in 2,000 steps. My car, on the other hand, gets a lot of exercise. I guess that is how she stays so svelte.
Today I decided to use running as a mode of transport to visit my mother who is in hospital at the Texas Medical Center recovering from surgery. Did I mention that I live only a few kilometers from the Texas Medical Center (TMC)?
The TMC employs 106,000 people who provide medical services to 10 million patients a year. The TMC comprises 54 medical institutions, 21 hospitals (my mother is in one of them), 4 medical schools, 7 nursing schools, 2 pharmacy schools, and a dental school. More heart surgeries are performed here than anywhere in the world. The TMC is home to the world’s largest children’s hospital (Texas Children’s Hospital) and the largest cancer hospital (MD Anderson Cancer Center). And, with a GDP of $25 billion, the TMC is the world’s largest medical complex. This is BIG business! Ironically, the medical institutions are part of the Texas Medical Center Corporation, a non-profit umbrella organization. Someone is making a lot of money at the TMC and, with more than 160,000 visitors each day, I believe it is whoever manages the parking garages.
My 4-km run to TMC began directly across the street from my apartment at Hermann Park. I am lucky to live so near to one of Houston’s most visited green spaces. Hermann Park is home to the Houston Zoo, a great running track, a 9-hole golf course, a Japanese garden and the Miller Outdoor Theater. On any given day, the park is full of people like me whose cars get more exercise than they. The running trail is lined with gorgeous oak trees dripping with the Spanish moss that is so symbolic of the Southern US and makes me think of swamplands and bayous and crawfish and the blues.
As with most of my running activities, I like to listen to a variety of podcasts. Today’s playlist included one of my favourites, On Being, an award-winning podcast that describes itself as a program that asks “What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live?”. Despite its somewhat complex themes, the program is always inspiring and always uplifting…something to which I increasingly turn to counter the rather depressing traditional news programs here in the US.
The program is usually an interview format but today I listened to a special broadcast from a theater in New York entitled Stories about Mystery. One such story was a reading of “The Doctor and the Rabbi“, written by Aimee Bender, a novelist and short-story writer. The story, read by a great American actress, Ellen Burstyn, begins with:
The doctor went to see the rabbi. “Tell me, rabbi, please,” he said, “about God.”
The rabbi pulled out some books. She talked about Jacob wrestling the angel. She talked about Heschel and the kernel of wonder as a seedling that could grow into awe. She tugged at her braid and told a Hasidic story about how at the end of one’s life, it is said that you will need to apologize to God for the ways you have not lived.
“Not for the usual sins,” she said. “For the sin of living small.”
I don’t know if it was the endorphins kicking in or my romantic association to the Spanish moss but these words struck me deeply and I have been mulling over them throughout the day.
I feel challenged (in a good way) by the notion that it is a moral imperative to live our lives to the fullest, to live big, and that this is what is expected of us; this is our normal. And I began to wonder what it would look like for me to live this way on a daily basis. I think of those cheesy refrigerator magnets I so quickly dismiss; “Do what you think you cannot”, “Build your own dreams, or someone else will hire you to build theirs” and “If you can dream it, you can do it”. What if those kitchen magnets are right? What would that look for me? What would that look like for you?