I’ve always had a strong academic and metaphysical fascination with what makes us human. So much so that while studying digital video and audio production in college, I also majored in Anthropology- the study of human beings. Fast forward five or six years after graduation and I find myself sitting behind a desk well into the “cushy corporate gig” phase of my career, still making videos and producing a wide range of audio projects for LA Fitness; feeling like I’m only using half of my education; that question still relatively unanswered and still burning.
What makes us human?
If asking that question is ultimately asking, “What makes us unique from other mammals or creatures with whom we share the condition of possessing vertebrae?”, then the answer is simple: Bipedal ambulation (walking on two feet) and our brains ability to create and operate abstractions (imagine a cat composed of various citrus fruits with a baby shark for a tail. That thing you see in your head, that’s what I mean. So far as we know, only humans can conjure that up).
After a few existential breakdowns into my job here at LA Fitness, I had resigned myself to the reality that these partial answers to such a big question would have to suffice. There was no sense in pursuing them further. I worked for a gym. The place people go to get fit, not answer big questions. In my mind, those two things were forever incongruous.
Then a few important things happened that changed my mind quite profoundly:
- I read a book titled Born to Run by Christopher McDougall to learn more about the indigenous Tarahumara of Mexico’s Copper Canyons.
- I fell in love with a long-distance runner (whom I originally bought that book for).
- I succumbed to the unbridled peer pressure to try and be fit at work. Something that naturally exists in a place whose primary function is to promote and provide an environment to do just that.
- I agreed to be a part of a spotlight series at work where I go from the couch to accomplishing some athletic feat.
- I fit into a pair of jeans.
I think the most magnificent abstraction we’ve created as humans is linear time. The idea of seconds begetting minutes begetting hours begetting days and so on as if a series of incremental points on a timeline. None of this existed until the 14th century, whence the clock prevailed as a timekeeper. It’s from the invention of the clock and the hours and seconds contained within it that we have this perception of time. What makes this seem like such grand ruse of an abstraction is that: it wasn’t until I fit into some jeans yesterday that I realized or felt like all these things happened FOR something. I mean, of course, I knew sequentially when I had read and finished the book; what made me fall in love with my girlfriend and when; why I had agreed to do the spotlight series; when I walked into the gym and started forming that habit; when I fit into the jeans; and in what order these all occurred. But some genie was released from the bottle when I clasped the top button and didn’t feel like I should face away from the mirror out of fear of that button bursting off and shattering my reflection. A genie that couldn’t be returned after I needed a belt to fasten those same jeans to my waist.
All at once past, present and future, happened to me; The book I read piqued my interest in long-distance running; it taught me about our adaptation to sweat and endure beyond that of any other vertebrate. I was standing at the finish line of her marathon, the first one I attended, filled with pride as she caught her breath. I was walking into the gym for the first time at 29 running a 5k on the treadmill to see if I could (I could). I was poised and excited to pounce on this opportunity at work to serve my (until now unadmitted) vanity. I was attaining the great sense of accomplishment after fitting into three older pairs of jeans. And I was standing there, at the end of my own first race, dead tired but proud beyond comprehension.
The last of these events hasn’t happened yet. But it will. Past, present, future: All at once. I intend to explore the depth of the answers to my initial question. Though, presently, I find myself in a familiar dilemma: exploring and challenging the nature of human abstraction is only one part of the answer. If I’m to truly dive into this journey, I must do one more thing. That thing will require me to not just push myself, but figure out how to push myself, and what it means to push myself to do it. It’s no big reveal, you see, I’ve already told you what it is. It all happened at once, remember?
I. Must. Run.
And I will. A half marathon at first, a full marathon at last, and I’ll tell you all about it.
*Matt is a current employee of LA Fitness. While the opinions herein are Matt’s own, Matt receives a free membership in connection with his employment.