Posts Tagged ‘Tai Chi’

Tai Chi Graduation Day

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

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Princess Bride

When I went to my Tai Chi class, held in a small town “recreation center” which is really just a basketball gym in an old, crumbling clapboard building, I noticed several crayon drawings posted on the bulletin board.  The artist was clearly a preschooler.  Apparently, the night before, there had been a pickup basketball game, but one of the guys, a single dad, couldn’t get a babysitter, so he brought his daughter along and sat her down next to the bleachers with a box of crayons and paper.  He told her that if she was a good girl and let daddy play without interruption, he would show off her work to the multitudes.

“I’m trying to figure out what I’m looking at,” said one of my Tai Chi classmates as she stared at the “art” on the bulletin board.  Turning to me, she asked, “Anyone here good at interpreting toddler drawings?”

That was one role I certainly qualified for, since all of my young grandchildren are prolific “artists.”

“Sure,” I said with more confidence than I felt, “Let’s see what we’ve got here.”

There was a crude stick figure that was a partial amputee (one of the arms had been forgotten).  The “person” might  have been a difficult call gender-wise if not for the crown at the top of a lopsided circle,  and two giant loops at the side of its “head.”  The loops looked like long doggy ears, which was clearly the source of my classmate’s confusion.

“Oh, that’s easy,” I said (breathing a sigh of relief that I “got it,”).  “It’s clearly a princess (see the crown?) and those long doggy ears are actually earrings.”

“Yeah!” my classmate exclaimed, “I really do see it now!” She looked at me conspiratorially.  “Do you have granddaughters who like to dress as princesses?  For awhile my granddaughters were really into the princess-phase thing, and boy am I glad they are starting to get over it!  I was getting more than a little sick of the pink wands, crowns, and tutus ad nauseam!”

I laughed.

“Yeah, we also have the princess obsession,” I said, “although I confess, they’re really much more into dressing up as brides,” I replied, thinking of our recent spate of Purim costumes.

“Really?” my classmate, a woman in her seventies, exclaimed.  “Gosh, I remember when I used to love dressing up as a bride when I was a little girl!  It’s funny, but my granddaughters never ask to be brides – – I wonder why not?  They just want to be princesses !”

I thought a lot about what she said.  The definition of a nuclear family has become so blurred in the secular, Western world.  Expectant moms are often single by choice and an “ideal”  family doesn’t necessarily translate into a mother-father-child combo .   No mother today asks her young daughter “what do you want to dress up as?” and expect to hear “a bride!” as the answer.  Princesses (She Who Must Be Served) rule.   Unlike when I was a little girl, today’s young women may say they want to be lawyers, doctors, or construction workers, which is great.  But “bride” is no longer a “required” part of that equation as the be-all and end-all goal in a young woman’s life.

In the Jewish world, the concept of a family unit consisting of father, mother, and child is still very strong.   On the downside, within the Orthodox Jewish milieu, the desire to be a bride trumps just about everything else, and young Jewish women may feel panicked and obsessed if they’re not engaged by age 24.

In my granddaughters’ classes (preschool and 1st grade), there were a few Queen Esthers  dressed for Purim; a butterfly; and a ballerina or two; but overwhelmingly the most popular costume was to dress up as a bride.

Not There Yet

“Tai Chi class is ON for today!” That was the email I received yesterday at 7:30 a.m.  “Even though the roads may be a bit messy– especially north of Bridgton, we will be at the Town Hall for the 9:30 AM class today.”

This came as a surprise.  The roads outside were truly treacherous following the recent snowfall, which was followed by an ice storm, leaving our winding, steep mountain roads both icy and slushy and all-around dangerous.  My Tai Chi class is made up of 45 Mainers, mostly ages 60 – 85.  As the second youngest in the class, I felt a bit embarrassed by my own wimpiness.  “If the 80-year-olds can make it, surely I can too,” was my thought.

What I should have remembered is that Mainers tend to understate things.  A guy who is crippled by arthritis will say his “bones are misbehavin’ today.”  A woman sick as hell  from the effects of her chemotherapy treatments will say she’s “a bit undah the weathah today.”  A speeding motorist who crashes into a tree, totals his vehicle and survives his injuries will say, “I guess I gave (the car) a bit too much gas.”  These comments are made calmly with straight faces and stony expressions.  This takes some getting used to when you are a loud Jewish woman from the city, given to excessive and expressive emoting, including hand wringing and lots of “oy veys.”  So I should have realized that “roads a bit messy” really means, “the roads are extremely perilous!”

My husband was kind enough to drive the car down the driveway.  The plow guy had been there the day before, but now there were an additional two inches of snow mixed with ice.  My husband figured he’d make a new path in the snow with the tires, thereby making it easier to get down the driveway when I left.  It was a good plan – – but unfortunately conditions were so bad, that once my husband brought the car down, he couldn’t get it back up our impossibly steep driveway.  He parked it at the bottom and I only hoped the town’s snowplow wouldn’t be coming by until after I left, because the last thing you want is to be in the way of a snowplow on a narrow mountain road.  I walked down to the bottom of the driveway wearing my MicroSpikes, which are sharp metal crampons you put on the bottom of your boots, which grip the ice so you won’t slip and fall.

Unfortunately he had parked the car facing the wrong way, and there was simply nowhere to turn around.  I had to drive a mile up the road to the Inn, and only then, and with some difficulty, was I able to turn around and start my journey to my Tai Chi class.

I was less than a mile from our house when I saw an abandoned Ford F-250 pickup truck that had gone off the road and slid down an embankment into the woods.  The truck wasn’t damaged and it was clear it was not a case of his having gone too fast; the road was simply too slippery and he had spun out around a curve.  This is a 4×4 truck that is quite large and heavy and should have had enough traction due to its sheer weight.  It was an ominous sign, but I (stupidly!) pressed on.

I was driving about 15 miles an hour when I got to the main road; but despite the fact that the main road was clearer and more frequently plowed and sanded than the rarely traveled  street that leads to our house,  the main road wasn’t looking much better (after they plow they sprinkle the roads with a  mix of sand and salt to melt ice and improve traction).  There were barely any vehicles driving on the road (I should have taken this as a sign) and after 35 minutes – – normally a 15 minute ride – –  I reached our post office.  Katie, our new postmistress, comes all the way from the town of Mexico, Maine which is about 1 1/2 hours away.  (Our former postmistress just quit, deciding to pursue her Mary Kay cosmetics career.  Talk about an untapped market!  I can’t recall ever seeing a  rural Maine woman wearing makeup, so she has a lot of hard selling to do.)  Katie described her “wicked scary drive from hell” and my first thought was, “Well, she’s not going to last long at this job,”  because she is going to have to make that commute every day this winter.  But irrespective of her crazy daily commute,  I don’t expect her to be around much longer anyhow, since our little post office is likely up for closure along with 4,000 other rural post offices across America.

As I was leaving, a woman customer walked in carrying packages containing the Christmas gifts she was going to mail to her children, who live in other sates.
“I got to be 65 years old for a reason,” she said. “It’s because I didn’t go out in weather like this!”

At this point I was seriously thinking of giving up on the Tai Chi class and returning home.  But the road ahead was clear, and the road behind me to my house was awful, so I pressed forward.  I had already warned my husband that if things got worse, I’d simply find a room at a motel in Bridgton and spend the night.  In my car I carried a blanket, warm clothes, a flashlight, and food, and my cell phone was fully charged.

As I made my way through the towns of Albany and Waterford, I never went past 20 mph.  By now my class had started, and I was still 15 miles away, but I simply could not go any faster.  Just before I made the turn to the town of Bridgton where the class was being held, I made a detour through the town of Harrison, because the road there wasn’t as steep or curvy, and it was a good decision.  But it meant that despite my extra-early departure, I’d arrive 40 minutes late for my class, and by now I was pretty tense from my vise-grip clutching of the steering wheel.  I’d been driving for almost 90 minutes at 20 mph – – it usually takes me only 35 minutes – – and I was so exhausted I simply couldn’t imagine concentrating on intricate Tai Chi moves.

Instead, I pulled into my auto mechanic’s garage, where I had made an appointment for later that day to have studded snow tires put on my car.  I had hoped to combine my errands and intended to go there anyway after my Tai Chi class.

“Any chance you can fit me in earlier today?” I asked.  Fortunately, they could.  I was SO happy to have those tires on my car!  The difference was remarkable.  I was no longer slipping and sliding along the road, but I still had to proceed very slowly and cautiously.  All the way home, the weather kept changing.  One moment it was snowing, the next it was raining or sleeting; ice pellets were pounding my window.  Sometimes it was a combination of all of the above.

When I got to the bottom of our driveway, I said a little prayer.  The first time I tried to drive up, I got stuck in snow.  I was able to coast back down, and I tried again.  This time I paid careful attention to the tire tracks from my husband’s earlier descent.  By following the tracks and putting the car into 2nd gear (it’s an AWD stick shift), I was able to get to the top!

“I can’t believe you made it up the driveway!” my husband exclaimed.

“To heck with the driveway,” I said, “I can’t believe I made it home alive, period!”

Lesson learned:  I simply don’t know what I was thinking, and why I allowed temporary insanity to overtake me:  when the weather is bad, there is simply no reason to go out except in cases of extreme emergency.  I may be a wimp, but I am an alive wimp.  Tai Chi will have to wait.

Post Script:  Early Friday a.m.  I need to pick up a guest at the Portland airport who is coming to visit us, and of course the weather report is calling for heavy morning fog and more snow!