I just want to say out loud how much I love fat people who are happy, fat people who are good with their girth, big and proud, fat and happy. I love fat people who embrace their fatness like a warm blanket, feeling snug and wonderful while all the skinny folks scurry around freezing their asses off exercising. We carry this belief that fat people can’t really be happy, because they’re fat. They must be “crying on the inside” or “hiding” under the blubber. I think we’re wrong, in a big fat way.

A while ago I was triaging a corpulent guy in the ER. When I asked him what happened, he smiled, shrugged, and said,

“Fat guy fell down.”

“Dude,” I said, “Can’t you make up something better than ‘fat guy fell down’?”

“Ok,” he was humoring me, “Fat guy fell down chasing bear for McWhopper.”

I’ve been afraid of being fat all my life, and here comes this guy just loving his big ole self. My oldest son Billy has been an amazing role model for love-of-large-self. After he got out of the Marine Corps he announced he was “done exercising until the age of 30” and damned if the kid didn’t just stop doing everything and get his girth on again. Billy was “big boned” in his early twenties when I took all three boys on an all-inclusive resort trip to Jamaica. The first night there, on the beach filled with beautiful people, the emcee asked some of the men in the audience to “come up here and do something to make the women scream!” Billy joyfully strode up to the stage, lifted up his Hawaiian shirt and made his belly fat undulate like a tsunami. The women screamed, all right.

How can you not love that?

I’m a little tired of all this talk about exercise and nutrition, and I’m mostly sick of myself and my own obsession with strength and exercise and “looking good.” At the end of his life, Jerry Garcia is purported to have said something like, “If I had known how bad I was gonna feel, I wouldn’t have done all those drugs.” I’m starting to feel the same way about exercise, as I wake up every morning creaking like the Tin Man when Dorothy stumbles on his rusty frame in the forest.

“Oil me!” my joints yell as the alarm goes off.

What if all this hooey about exercise is just boloney? I’ve been a runner for 35 years, an athlete, and a big mouth proponent of exercise but I think I’ve been duped and maybe – I’m just saying – maybe I should have been on the dang couch smoking joints rather than on the mountain hurting them. I had a great friend, a crotchety Italian lawyer guy who smoked cigarettes, drank excessively, and ate whatever he wanted. He believed you were born “with a pre-determined number of heartbeats” and if you exercised, you used them up too fast. When any one of his organs started to fail, it was his plan to pick out a “healthy young guy in India,” give him “lots of money and a year to live” and then just harvest what he needed.

Outrageous and morally bankrupt, but it sort of catches your attention, doesn’t it?

Why do I fear fatness? Why can’t I embrace the idea like Santa Claus, Chris Farley, and Billy? Are fat and happy people really just crying on the inside? I don’t think so. I think plenty of them are enjoying the hell out of life, eating whatever they want and not freaking exercising at all. That sounds delightful and maybe if I had led a nice sedentary life I wouldn’t wake up feeling like I’ve been mugged. Like Jerry Garcia, I just plunged full speed ahead in my youth, not with drugs but with exercise and adventure – running thousands of miles, biking, hiking, skiing, going to the gym. The list of my folly is endless. And now I’m 55 and paying the proverbial Exercise Piper, especially since I took up ice hockey, for the love of God. You know how we accuse men of being stupid by thinking with their “little head?” Well, I don’t have a “little head” but I apparently have a “young head” that’s just as delusional as any penis. My “young head” thought being an ice hockey goalie at my age would be fun!

Getting old is a dirty, hairy secret. Nobody talks about it. So when I started feeling like the Tin Man I went into work and asked my co-workers – most of them much younger than me – why I hurt all the time they looked at me like they were doing intake on a mental patient.

“Because you’re….OLD?” Marianne said rather loudly, like you do when talking to an old person.

Oh no! I’m getting old!

Aging is really awkward. Weird stuff really does start to happen, like after 40 when an alien inhabits your midsection and after 50 as hair grows in odd places. When you’re a young ass whipper-snapper all of this is hilarious. Then you actually get there and it’s just stunning. I’m just starting to get it.

When I met Cowboy Bob eight years ago on a pack trip, I came upon him one day working diligently to get a piece of leather saddle strap through a grommet (that’s a hole, folks). I voiced my skepticism and he looked up, spit out his tobacco, and did that gnarly bad boy smile thing:

“Ain’t nothing can’t be done with a little patience and lubrication,” he said.

While that sounded pretty sexy now it just seems practical and maybe Bob wasn’t talking about sex at all, but about getting old – patience and lubrication is what I need right now. I’m starting to use oil, just like the Tin Man, to lube up my joints, help me breathe better at night – because yes, now I snore for the love of God – and even grease my intestines. I have the lubrication, I just now need the patience.

I’ve been running for 35 years and it’s just time to stop. Enough already with the abs. I used to love it when people told me I was “ripped” and slobbered about how good I looked and what great legs I had. Vanity. Insanity. Inanity. So I looked good and wasn’t fat. Do you have any idea how freaking hard it was to keep my body in that kind of shape? For what? A few compliments? Although it really does feel great to work the body hard, I think in all honesty I was motivated by fear and desire, those buggers that bring us suffering at every level. I cared that I looked good because I was afraid of being alone – fat and alone I guess, which at now often sounds like the very definition of bliss. Fat and alone. Ahhh.

I think I am ready to almost let it go to hell in a handbasket, with a burger. Of course I’ll still do stuff I love outside, like skiing and biking, but it’s going to be about loving the outdoors and lighting up my insides, not my quads. I’ll do more yoga and enjoy it, and probably snore during shavasana. But no more War Against the Belly – clearly middle age has won and I don’t want to grow old being one of those people who complain about pain all the time.

Whoever started this line that “50 is the new 30” ought to be tarred and feathered. 50 is freaking 50. That’s all. Nothing less. The body hurts after half a century mucking around and there is no going back. My teacher at Upaya, Roshi Joan Halifax, is nearly 70 and she’s gorgeous! No make up (often no hair), and a robust body that still treks the Himalayas, Roshi Joan is embracing aging because she’s getting wiser. She glows from the inside out and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t use a lot of fancy skin products, being a Zen priest and all. I think she’s totally tapped into that deep well of inner beauty we all have, the one I’ve been running away from for 35 years. Roshi Joan radiates love and exuberance and I don’t think she gives a rat’s ass about her abs.

That’s my model for aging, not some 60 year old trying to look like a 40 year old. For God’s sake: 50 is 50, 60 is 60 and someday dead is just dead. If my girth grows consummate with wisdom and happiness, well then bring it on. Maybe fat and happy people are way evolved, and know something the rest of us run from in terror. Maybe they know that the body is just a bag o’ bones, a temporary earthsuit that houses a magnificent spirit; not some temple to be worshipped and revered but just a thang – something to walk around in while we laugh and love and feel joy. So you can hurt this body doing wild stunts of athletic extremism, or just be the fat guy who fell down. On the mend, I wonder who’s happier?