“Todo en tiempo.” The voice is on my left, but I don’t see the speaker at first. I’m, staring down at the ancient stone steps, watching my chest rise and fall, trying to catch my breath.
I look up, my black hat keeping the sun out of my eyes. It’s a young man, very muscular in a white tee shirt. His face is all encouragement and kindness, and he smiles before he moves on. Todo en tiempo, he had said. All in time.
I am the fattest person on the pyramid today, but I am not the only one who is struggling.
On the steps of the largest pyramid at Teotihuacán, everyone is friends with everyone else. Guides and tourists, church groups and retirees, everyone is looking out for the people around them. Most of the steps have no handrail, and footing is unsure. Many of the steps are over a foot tall, eroded, chipped, and taxing even to seasoned climbers.
Six steps up from where I’m standing, my traveling companion has just caught the arm of an older Japanese woman who tripped upon reaching the landing where he stands.
“You ok?” he asks her, his face a universal diagram of compassion and concern. She smiles back, nods, refuses his offer of one of our water bottles.
I’ve been lagging behind him the whole way up, taking more and longer breaks, catching him at each stepped landing, gasping too hard to speak.
Depending on the way you slice it, the Temple of the Sun at Teotihuacán might be the third largest pyramid in the world. Or the tenth. Or the biggest one that you can actually climb to the top of. Today, it feels enormous, insurmountable.
“You don’t have to do this,” my companion says, that same look on his face the same as when he caught the older woman’s elbow. “You can stop whenever you want.”
“I’m doing this,” I tell him. “But thank you for saying it.” He holds my hand. We breathe.
It’s a partially overcast day in the middle of the week. The crowd is appropriately small to the day and the weather, but the way everyone looks out for one another makes it feel surprisingly welcoming. Waiting out my heart rate at each landing, I meet people from India, from Indiana, from right there in Teotihuacán as well as Brazil and New York and Heidelberg. Each person says something encouraging to everyone they greet. We are all struggling to get up to the top of this thing, no matter how fit we may be.
I remember years ago at Berkeley, the day I wanted to quit my 8 a.m. yoga class. I was the fattest (and possibly oldest) person in the room. I remember the instructor, whip-thin with ribs visible in the vee neck of her t-shirt. She stalked the rows of us as we stood in downward dog, sweat rolling up into our eyeballs.
“Hold it,” she’d say, like a pleasant sadist. Like the exact opposite of every person on this pyramid. Todo en tiempo. Hold it.
I had reached my breaking point. My back ached and my thigh muscles spasmed as I held the pose. After a few shaking breaths, I decided I was done and I’d had enough. Today was going to be the day I admitted what I was and quit. I looked to my left for a sign, for confirmation that I did not belong here.
On that side was a very young man in perfect shape, whose shape was just like mine as we tried to be dogs before the sun. He was sweating into his eyeballs, too. He was also crying. His face was purple-blotch-red as he fought through the exertion and the emotion of hitting the wall. Just like me. I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
Climbing up the largest pyramid at Teotihuacán, I’m reflecting on how long it’s been since I pushed my body like this, until I felt the edge of its limits threaten to hem in my ambition. That yoga class was five years ago— has it been that long? It may have.
I love my body. I love it every day, and that has been a difficult and rewarding thing to learn how to do. I take dance breaks while I’m writing. I walk a few miles every week. I swim every chance I get. I get a lot of enjoyment out of it, which seems to shock people.
I am very fat. This is not a secret; it’s not only in a yoga class or on an ancient pyramid that I find I’m the fattest person in the room. That’s a regular occurrence for me, and has been throughout most of my life. I am fat in ways that include only being able to buy clothes on the internet, and bruises on my hips and thighs from nearly every chair I’ve ever sat in.
Existing in this body is often a fight, but there have been no battles on home soil for a long time. I am at peace with me. The external battle is the one that won’t sell me clothes, and the one that bruises my widest points. It’s the one that tells me not to book excursions off a cruise ship, because I’d rather not live through the humiliation of being told I exceed the weight limit for ziplining or a helicopter ride. The external battle is the one that had me worried that I wouldn’t be able to do this. Of course I can do this. I’m in excellent health. Todo en tiempo, I will do what thousands of travelers have always done.
I don’t weigh myself often. I know what league I’m in, what my limits are if someone shows me a spindly chair or a poorly-bolted swing. The number isn’t important to me, and doesn’t embarrass me. But it might be important to you.
There is no weight limit to climbing a pyramid.
But I cannot do it at speed. Weight is weight, and I’m simply carrying more weight up this fucking pyramid than anyone else. I have to do it at my own pace. I know that, and I want to be as solicitous toward myself as we are all being to one another.
My traveling companion is wonderful. He’s patient and keyed-in. Later, when I’m taking similar breaks on the steep steps of the Temple of the Feathered Serpent, he’ll call out to me when I’m on the last flight of steps, head down, trying to slow my breathing before moving on.
“As motivation, I have to tell you it’s fucking gorgeous up here.” He’s beaming beneath his Panama hat. He’s not rushing me. It is motivation. I want to see those stone snake heads peering out of the other pyramid at me. I will get there. Todo en tiempo.
When I reach the top of the Temple of the Sun, he’s there. He’s looking out over the valley. He’s waiting out a big church group all in white currently taking up the wind-blasted summit of the pyramid, waiting to go up the last few sloping feet of the uneven crown of this spectacular site.
We get there together, hand in hand. My thighs ache already and there is more left to climb. The way down is so steep that even from a few feet away, it looks like a sheer cliff rather than a flight of stairs. We have to look straight down to see the way we will descend.
Reader, our fat asses DID. pic.twitter.com/NAZBHi9CcQ
— Meg Elison (@megelison) September 25, 2019
Wind in our hair, we hold the moment. I have to brag about it on Twitter, I’m so proud. Today, I will walk five more miles to two more pyramids. Today, I will find the edge of my exhaustion and endurance, feel my body fully balk at the base of the Temple of the Moon, refusing another set of ultra-steep stairs to the top. I will follow my instinct toward long, slow sips of cold water and a ballet-barre style stretch of my thigh muscles. I will let the soft animal of my body love what it loves, as the poet Mary Oliver suggests, instead of making it my obstacle or my enemy.
The pyramids at Teotihuacán are populated by a dozen or so rangy feral dogs. They flop into pools of shade, very much at home on their pyramid. They, too, are kind to the people on the long climb up as they pass, keeping an eye on us. Dogs before the sun. They climb when they want to climb, rest when they need to rest. They’ve got the right idea about this place. They toil not, neither do they weep. I want to assume their posture, as my yoga teacher taught me. Hold it.
Wind whipping around the hem of my skirt and making me intimately aware of the sweat in the backs of my knees, I hold the moment.
At Tula, a few days later, I hold it again. I’ve climbed another great pyramid, and I’m hardly even sore anymore. It’s just as steep, below the collections of giant statues there. We stand on this smaller pyramid in a thunderstorm, and the crackling grey beauty of it humbles me with a lump in my throat. It’s one of the most beautiful days of my life. Dragging my wet skirts through puddles of rain collecting in the thousand-year-old cupped steps of this place, I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time.
I am happy because I’m exhausted and suffused with beauty and history in this entrancing place that I’m privileged to see. I’m happy because I’m loved and supported and Known for exactly who I am. I am happy because I am in my body, all of it, and I’m not angry at it for what it can or cannot do. My cotton dress clings to me with cold rain and my blood is singing in my veins, quaking with the thunder. Rain drips off the brim of my hat. I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.
Travelers who are larger than average think about these things. Will I fit in my seat on the airplane? Will my bed in the B&B groan beneath me with ancient springs or insufficient slats? Will I be too fat to climb the pyramid? Will my body embarrass me, betray me, separate me from my companions who can get there faster or fit on the roller coaster?
Friend, your body is your own. You know what your limits are. If you have a knee or a hip that troubles you, you might have a harder time than I did. I can’t tell you how climbing the pyramid will be; you know yourself best.
But if you’re like me, very fat and mostly in good health, you can do this. You can take it as slowly as you need to. You can take breaks. I climbed multiple pyramids in Mexico without tripping, without falling, without shame, and you can too. Even if you weigh as many pounds as I do, or more.
I can’t tell you how to climb to the top of loving your body like I love mine. Not all pyramids are as populated with friendly people as the one at Teotihuacán. But I’ll be waiting at the top for you. As motivation, I can tell you it’s fucking gorgeous up here. I’ll hold your hand when you make the top. But no rush. And you don’t have to do this. But you can.
Todo en tiempo.