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Stepping Past the Killing Fields

By Mark Anthony Neal | @NewBlackMan | with thanks to NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016.

I could easily say that it was about the death of Prince Rogers Nelson, or radio host Doug Banks, just a few weeks prior.  Truth be told, I could have been looking back past the last 15 years and see names like Gregory Hines, Luther Vandross, Barry White, Michael Jackson, or any numbers of Black male celebrities that didn’t survive their 50s.  Yet the reality is I could be talking about friends, colleagues, regular dudes you would see at the barbershop, at church, dropping their kids off at school.  For a generation of Black men who often thought they wouldn’t live long enough to turn 21, the 50s have become the new killing fields.

I turned 50 six-months ago.  Despite being  excited about reaching that milestone in my life, on the actual day what I experienced was a deep sense of resignation, that shit was not going to get easier.

The ignorance that masculinity often masks as invincibility often means that men, and in this instance Black men, are socialized to ignore the signals that their bodies are telling them about their health and lifestyles.  Notions of “manning up” and “powering through” are the ways that we have been taught to deal with the minor aches and pains or the bad diets and sleep deprivation, that so many of us embrace in pursuit of the higher goals of the grind.  Who has time to go to the doctor?

If is often in our late 40s and 50s that the natural aging process begins to diminish our abilities to “man up,”  and in some cases, like some of the men mentioned above, it is too late to reverse decades of bad choices.  

To be fair I was fortunate in the misfortune of being diagnosed with a debilitating case of sleep apnea in my mid-30s and hypertension a decade later; left untreated, both would have killed me by now. Yet even as I dutifully make those appointments with my physician, and make sure to stay on my medication, and check my vitals on a regular basis, I know that anybody’s fried chicken is still my meal of choice and that there ain’t a bag of kettle chips and cinnamon pop tarts that are safe if within three-feet of my reach.

The middle-age struggle is real.

I have been an avid power walker for the last 5 years, but walking--or rather stepping--took on a new significance as I approached my 50th birthday.  As my wife and youngest daughter started using handheld technology to mark their daily steps, I started doing so myself.  6 months later I am addicted to the technology, competitively trying to make sure I reach my daily goals, and of course, trying outstep my totals from one day to the next.

Yet what the counting steps also did was provide subtle, healthy lifestyle changes for me.  Because I know I need to make my steps, I find myself parking in the furthest spot in the supermarket parking lot--indeed a trip to the supermarket has brought new meaning to me because I know the  steps I might put in during a twenty-minute walk through the market will get me closer to my daily goal.  Where I once relished hopping on the underground rail system in Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport (my most visited point of connection), I now walk from terminal to terminal, even eschewing the People Movers, if I have some time between connections.

Indeed, late in the evening, I’ll find my self taking out the trash or walking the dogs (which I hate), if only because I know I might get in those additional 400 steps I need to make my daily quota.

And while I still find myself dipping into a bag of kettle chips every once-and-a-while, and will, at least, choose the roast chicken over the fried, more often than not, I’m trying to do this life thing a little better, stepping into the future, hopefully past the killing fields.

Stepping Past the Killing Fields

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