“Are you going to eat that?”

January 29, 2010

I have some very dear friends from my first assignment – I’ll call them Mark and Claire – with whom I still keep in touch.  I don’t see them very often but when we do get together, it is as if we just saw each other last week.  Mark is a very successful businessman who likes to live large, eat and drink heartily, and have as much fun as possible when he is not at work.  He is a bit of a daredevil and has often asked me to go sky diving with him or take a ride on the back of his Harley.  I always decline as I remember the time he tried to kill me while I was waterskiing behind his boat.  Now in fairness, he was trying to get even with me as I had sandbagged him about never having water skied before.  I actually had been the head lifeguard at a camp for four summers and used to teach kids how to water ski but I didn’t tell him that.  Mark wanted me to try skiing and I ‘reluctantly’ agreed.  I got in the water, struggled with the skis, and made sure I fell down the first few times I tried to get up.  Once I finally got up, I skied bowlegged, ready to fall, for one loop of the bay and then as we came by the dock, I dropped a ski, and kicked into the slalom toehold.  I then started skiing in and out of the wake and doing a few ‘minor’ turn-ins.  That’s when Mark hit the gas and proceeded to try and dump me.  When that didn’t work, he tried to kill me by wrapping the rope around my neck so I dropped the tow line.   He then refused to let me back in the boat and made me swim to the beach, a good two hundred yards in that stupid ski vest all the while gunning the boat menacingly as if to run me over.  Imagine and me a man of the cloth!

When I see them, it is usually at their house as Mark likes to cook these great meals of steaks or lamb chops on the grill or lobster thermidor or anything else that you can think of that is so good to eat but so bad for your waistline or cholesterol level.  He’s one of those guys that if he knows early enough ahead of time, he will order the food for the feast from some internet specialty shop or butcher that he saw on the Food Channel as having the best cut of meat or food anywhere in the country.  I swear if I asked for Kobe beef from Japan someday he’d probably find a way to get it.  There is always lots of beer and good wine and I usually end up staying overnight in the guest room so as to avoid becoming a guest of the state police.  Oh, by the way, Mark’s wife is lovingly long suffering.  I’ll say no more.

So imagine my surprise and consternation when I walked in the other day and was met by St. Claire of Perpetual Patience and told that Mark was out “running.”  “What?” I said, “for public office?” “No,” she answered, “Mark’s got religion when it comes to fitness.”  I was stunned.  Mark exercising?  This was a guy whose idea of full body workout was drinking his scotch while standing up.  “Why” I asked Claire, “did he have some kind of health scare or something?”  “No, he’s fine.  He just turned 50 and he thinks he has to get more exercise.”  As I poured myself a very unhealthy bourbon I said, “Surely this kick doesn’t apply to food too?”  The look of pity and regret that Claire threw my way confirmed my worst gluttonous fears. Now, Mark is one of those fortunate souls who seem to have the perpetual metabolism of an adolescent boy. I mean the man can eat and drink anything and never put on a spot of weight or raise his cholesterol level beyond numbers that a vegan would be proud of and here he was wasting this gift from God by exercising!  I must have looked crestfallen as Claire quickly said, “That’s why we’re going out to eat tonight.  He can get what he wants and we can get what we want.”

As she finished, the back door flew open and Mark appeared in all his heaving, panting glory.  I looked at him with astonishment.  It was January, it was cold and windy, in the 20s and he was dressed in some running shorts, a t-shirt, and a sweatshirt.  That’s it. (So much for being on a health kick – we’re talking pneumonia possibility here).  “Padre,” he said, “how you doin’?”  “A lot better than you right now.”  “Whadda ya mean?  I haven’t felt better in my life.  You should try it.”  Now you have to understand whenever I get the crazy thought in my head that I might go for a ‘run,’ I go lie down until that thought goes away.  Everyone talks about how running is good for you and all that and they even mention this thing called ‘runner’s euphoria’ and such but I believe panting and gasping for breath and ‘euphoria’ are not synonymous or even temporally contiguous.  As Mark reached for a Harry and David pear, I turned to Claire and said, “You wouldn’t happen to have any unhealthy cheese and pepperoni around to snack on, would you?  She said, “It’s in the fridge just behind Mark’s organic carrot sticks from the Napa Valley and his Himalayan spring water.” Mark went upstairs to change.

The rest of the night was a hoot as Mark had obviously taken on his new fitness lifestyle with the same fervor as he pursued everything else in life.  At the restaurant, Claire and I ordered our drinks and food without any fuss, while he drove the waitstaff to distraction by asking every little detail about every dish that he may or may not eat – “What kind of greens do you use in your salad? Where are they from?  Can I just get the fish broiled with only a light spray of oil and no salt and pepper and the veggies on the side with no butter? etc. etc. –  and then picking apart our choices as so unhealthy and bad.  Neither Claire nor I was really bothered by it as we knew it was just Mark being Mark and he knew that he was only doing what we expected him to do and so forth.  Good friends make allowances for personal quirks and idiosyncrasies, probably enjoying each other’s company more for them.

Yet, after I saw Mark and Claire, I did start to exercise more and watch what I was eating.  I have not taken it as far as he has but he did convince me to make changes.  So here’s my point: I think we need the ‘large’ people in our lives – even the fanatics, the extremists, the people who push the envelope in a good way.  I am not talking terrorists or people who are unreasonable, but people who by their fervor or by their ability to challenge the status quo call us out of our complacency and move us a little bit more in a good direction.  This is especially true in our church.  We need the prophets, those men and women who say the things we may not want to hear, who ask tough questions and push for answers or change.  While we may not agree with what some may be saying about and within our Catholic faith, we have to at least listen.  Who knows, by listening and engaging in dialogue as friends who make allowances out of charity for each other, we may even move our opinions a bit, one way or the other.