Last month, Kevin Hart landed himself in a wheelchair.
He didn’t wind up there from a tragic accident on the set of a new film co-starring The Rock. He wasn’t paralyzed from some vicious, mysterious disease (thankfully). No, the megastar fell victim to the deadly condition of time—of getting older. And he, like many other men, experienced the dreaded-yet-inevitable snap. A physiological humbling. The moment when God, time, and our bodies tell us, “Sir, you are not young anymore.”
Kevin Hart is in a wheelchair because he ran—he ran hard. That’s it.
The Think Like a Man actor thought like a young man and challenged 34-year-old former NFL running back Stevan Ridley—who is 10 years his junior—to a 40-yard dash. After a couple of runs, dude ended up temporarily handicapped. His injuries: torn abductors and abdominal muscles. To quote Kevin, he “blew all his s**t.” Sure, Hart has been running 5k races for the past decade. But the comedian is 44 years old, and his male body seems to have begun its transition into a new phase: middle age.
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I’m sure the injuries were excruciating, but what’s more painful is what these injuries represent. As society dictates, so much of malehood—Black malehood, defined by vigor, our ability to protect, to jump into action, to be of physical use—the lion’s share of our value is held in our bodies, our utility. Once those bodies begin to break, we’re forced to sit in the existential quandary of our worth and necessity. What is a man if he’s not useful?
"Ladies and gentlemen, the age 40 is real,” Hart said. “To all my men, women out there that are 40 years old and above, it's not a game. Respect that age, or that age will make you respect it. I was just forced to respect it."
Having recently turned 39, I’m forced to sit in the reality of my age and body, respect and accept it. Typically, it starts in your follicles, which start sprouting Sisqo-silver strands—that is, if they’re still firing at all. Having said farewell to my hairline in my mid-20s, I charged it to genetics and blamed my dad. But when back issues developed in my 30s, I tried to ignore it. It wasn’t until a few years ago, when it became so bad that I could barely pick up or put down my newborn, that I had to take note.
Fast forward to today, and my diagnosis of degenerative disc disease in my lowest lumbar left me appreciative of the fact I have a name for the pain but frustrated that it isn’t anything I can “fix.” It’s just age, nothing more. Nothing to reverse. The back, the hinge point, is significant because it’s the center of all activity. It’s where we lift, bend, and jump. It’s how we exercise our utility. It’s how we remain productive and protective. It’s the Achilles to our manhood. Looking up information online and reading the words degenerate, deteriorate, weakened, and breaking down put me face-to-face with my mortality, thinking, “Damn, I’m dying.” Call it hyperbole. Call it Virgo, but once that snap happens, it’s the beginning of the end.
Showing out in a footrace or a game of pick-up ball tells the world that you’re still here, that you still got it, that you’re still a man. When life sits you down, it feels like the final buzzer is mere seconds away.
It reminded me of this Afro-Puerto Rican folk tale about death and time. In the parable, the Grim Reaper would come to town, and when it was your time, he would strike his staff to the ground, and you would fall. Well, it was a man’s time; he saw Death and fled. He hid in an old drum and thought he’d outsmarted time, but alas, sight unseen, the staff struck the ground, and so did the man. We may hide from ourselves and the truth, but you can’t hide or run from your mortality.
Growing older is beautiful. Maturing and developing are beautiful. But the ugliness of aging is the fact we aren’t conscious of it. We exist in our minds as our parent's children, with our high school or college physicality and our imagined cool. When a significant life event happens—like getting around a lot of much younger people or the rare opportunity to challenge a professionally trained athlete to a footrace—the vertigo of reality knocks us down, leaving us dizzy from the honesty of our bodies and abilities as they are now.
“Why was I even racing?” Hart reflected afterward. “To be the fastest n**ga at the barbeque?!”
Kinda. D.L. Hugley once said, I believe in a VladTV interview, that men hold their manhood and masculinity so ferociously because it’s the only thing they’ve ever been able to own. The best way to display that manhood is through a sign of physical prowess against other men, whether football, basketball, pushups, or the Black American classic, the footrace. And the best arena suited for such healthy competition is the cookout/barbeque. This is where we as men show that even in our age, we are still men and can keep up with the young cats—that we are still strong, productive, useful and, above all, valuable.
The rules are simple. You can lose, but you can’t get dusted. You definitely don’t want to injure yourself and be on the sideline with an ice pack, Tylenol, and bruised self-esteem while the winner gets showered with praise, chicken wings, and a pretty auntie fixing him a second plate. A lot rides on the footrace. More than just bragging rights, but respect and how you’re viewed by your wife and kids. Showing out in a footrace or a game of pick-up ball tells the world that you’re still here, that you still got it, that you’re still a man. When life sits you down, it feels like death—the final buzzer—is mere seconds away.
Wrestling with age and manhood is nothing new. The now-infamous comedian Louis C.K. talked about crossing the 40-year-old threshold as well. He has a bit in his 2008 stand-up special Chewed Up where he details going to the doctor about a new ankle pain. Essentially, the doctor tells him he can take Aleve and stretch daily for 30 minutes. Louis asks, “For how long?” and the doctor replies, “No, you just do this now.”
Take heed, my brothers. Wash away the barber-enhanced hairline. Let your gray hairs flourish. Hang up the Wolverine-shredded jeans in the back of the closet. Enroll in some yoga and mobility training. You just do this now.
Hart went online to discuss the situation and update his millions of fans on his physical condition. He jokingly called himself the “dumbest man alive” because he was trying to do “young stuff.” But Kevin wasn’t dumb; he is just a man who hadn’t realized the realities of his 40s. And now he does.