by Paul Blaney
Age is in your head. Well, yes and no. Age is in your head but it’s also in your body. Take, for example, that Italian guy who, on his 30th birthday, made up his mind to do 30 press-ups. And, for a year thereafter, every day, 30 press-ups more. Until, on his next birthday—31.
At 40, he was a 40-a-day man. Fifty at 50, though wrists and shoulders began to creak and groan. Still he never missed a day, not even Sunday. How’s that for discipline? Not even Christmas or Mussolini’s birthday (did I mention his regrettable devotion to Il Duce?).
Word got out. It wasn’t as if he went courting publicity, but maybe he wasn’t averse to it either. In any case they did an item on Italian TV, in that little Aren’t-folks-something! slot at the end of the news. The Press-Up King, they called him. In Italian of course. Il Re di something or other.
For a while after that he even got fan mail. An Algerian guy in prison outside Naples. The mayor of Perugia’s eldest daughter. And Italy’s oldest woman: Luisella Cauzzi of Cremona. Alas, the letters didn’t last. You know what people are like. But did that stop him? It did not. Which perhaps goes to show that his motives were pure. Personal at least.
Not until he was part way through his 65th year did the muscle-wrenching, age-confounding, time-defying run come to an end. Collapsing suddenly, heavily (a bit like that bridge in Minnesota if you can remember that) in the course of his 61st push-up, he made no effort to rise. He simply lay breathing, beached on the smooth parquet floor.
Whereupon, for some reason, he heard his dead mother’s voice speaking from most of a lifetime before. “But the brave creature could not run another step, its poor dear heart was broken.”
Was his heart broken? Not in any anatomical sense. But had a journalist somehow appeared with a microphone to ask how he felt, he might just have said that: broken. Like I just fell 20 storeys, he might have said. Like all my bones are crushed and more besides. (All of this in Italian naturally.) Like I’ll never get up from this floor again.
And yet, mixed with the inevitable taste of defeat, wasn’t there a tinge of sweet relief? I know I think so. After all it had to end somewhere. Probably he’d have liked to make it to 100 but there are limits to the power of mind over matter. (Thought the distinction between the two, so I’m told by philosopher friends, is less neat than it used to be.) Matter, in the long run, is your safer bet.
Yes, relief he was tasting, and acceptance, serenity, the late-season blooming of wisdom that begins with the physical certainty of death. Or is this all getting far-fetched? After all, what do I know? Niente! Let’s face it, this press-up guy was hardly Cicero. Probably all he was tasting was the banana he had for breakfast.