Today was a momentous day in my Tai Chi class. Six months ago several of us joined a class for beginners. There are 108 different “moves” done in a particular sequence, and we learned a few of the moves each week and repeated them endlessly, practicing stance and technique twice a week. (Surprisingly, the class was never boring!) Besides the newcomers, about 30 “regulars” who have been doing Tai Chi with this group for many years also participate. The price is right: it’s free, although once a year we are asked for a $20 “donation,” and once a week people are asked to drop any unwanted food staples into a cardboard box; it’s given to the local food bank.
Today we finished learning the last of the 108 Tai Chi moves and after class, everyone was invited for pizza at a local diner (obviously not kosher) for a graduation celebration. (I ordered hot water in a disposable cup – – I had even brought my own teabag!) Besides receiving our diplomas, each graduate was asked to speak about what they had gained from the class. The instructor was hoping for some life-changing stories about people who improved their mobility or balance, but the truth is, Tai Chi takes years to master (just because you know the moves doesn’t mean you have finesse), and because it’s a slow-moving, deliberate exercise, the benefits are initially subtle at best. So when it was my turn to speak, this is what I said:
I originally joined the Tai Chi class because I was diagnosed with osteoporosis, and I wanted to optimize my balance to prevent falls. But what I really gained from the class was a totally unexpected surprise.
A few years ago, I was a caretaker for my elderly mother and mother-in-law. It was a very stressful time for me, and filled me with heartache. When it was all over, I felt like I had aged 10 years, both mentally and physically. But the worst thing was my attitude: I dreaded old age to such a degree, that the very notion of aging was depressing and terrifying and I could not imagine how I could ever face it.
The great thing about this class is seeing so many older people living vibrant, active lives. I’m sure you all have your share of aches and pains, and some of you have serious health problems. But to see you arrive at class week after week, volunteering your time and expertise to help newcomers, driving long distances in rain, sleet and snow to be part of this experience, is a wondrous thing. Many of you are in your eighties and nineties, yet I can only envy your vitality! You are never without a smile or a kind word or positive attitude; you are so full of grace. You have taught me that getting older doesn’t have to be a curse or something horrific. None of you are victims of your age, you are celebrants. I just want to thank everyone here for being such a positive influence, because you really have helped change my life and outlook for the better.
You can check out my Tai Chi class website at http://www.taichiinmaine.com