Wrestling with our Past and our Future

Delacroix, mural cycle, Saint-Sulpice, Paris

Some of you may be familiar with the humorous song from The Book of Mormon, “Turn It Off.” If not, here is a video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Of5cgecGIhg. The song takes a light approach to the idea of pushing down our feelings, not dealing with our past, and trying to escape where our future may lead us. While it has its laughs, the song speaks (or sings) to a universal truth of the human experience; when we do not proactively confront “our issues,” they have a way of coming to the fore in any case–and sometimes at the worst times and in the worst ways.

I was reminded of “Turn It Off,” because of the Torah portion that will be read in synagogues across the globe and on-line this Shabbat. The section, called Vayishlach, describes the reunion between the twins, Jacob and Esau, after a 20-year separation. The last time they had seen each other, Esau had vowed to kill his brother for having tricked their father, Isaac, into blessing Jacob rather than Esau. Much preparation went into the reunion, and the night before Jacob had an experience/dream of wrestling with an angel. Jewish commentators of the centuries have tried to explain exactly what this experience was. Was it an angel? Was it a person? Is it to be taken literally? Is it a metaphor?

To me, the story seems like a parallel to Jacob’s inner conflict. The dream plays out not so much as result of his anxiety about the reunion, but rather as a natural outcome of never having fully dealt with what he had done 20 years earlier. Readers of the Torah know that Jacob was not exactly the nicest kid; the intervening 20 years, however, involved their share of trials, tribulations, and personal growth. It appears that there was still some unfinished internal business that needed to be worked out; perhaps this dream reflects that. In the end, neither the angel nor Jacob prevailed over the other. Jacob was injured in the scuffle (a scar that would be with him forever). Ultimately, Jacob came out of the incident a changed man–reflected in his new name Yisrael–the one who struggles with God.

What does this have to do with fitness, health and well-being? Many of us have experiences when we are younger that turn us off the path of taking better care of ourselves. Some of us were not athletic in our youth and may have been chosen last for the team, teased for our awkwardness, or even bullied. Some of us were made to feel guilty by family members for wanting to take care of ourselves; we were told we were selfish and that our responsibility was towards others first. Some of us feel held back by childhood injuries or illnesses. In any case, fitness did not become a priority.

We can try to “Turn It Off,” when it comes to our feelings, but eventually they will catch up with us; the same is true with our health and well-being. I work with a number of clients who lament that they (for a variety of reasons) did not learn earlier to take better care of themselves. The decisions we made yesterday about our health affect us today. The decisions we make today affect our tomorrows. We cannot just push it down; in the end, we must confront it. Either we deal with our wellness now, or we will deal with our illness later.

As they say these days, “the struggle is real.” At some point the piper must be paid. Will we deal with it now, or will we put it off and end up having to pay later with penalties and interest?