When I was little, all the kids in the neighborhood were boys, so boys were my playmates. Now that I am going to the gym twice a week for training in strength and balance, I am surrounded by a diverse assortment of other friends. This morning I looked around at us all doing different routines–some on big balls, some heaving little balls into the wall, one man bending forward with a stick behind him to keep his spine aligned, one young man jumping up and off a stool–and realized we all looked crazy! I remarked to the young woman next to me that if someone walked in they would think we were nuts.
It’s great to have friends around me when I go to the gym. These aren’t close friends, more like acquaintances, but we encourage each other in our progress, whether fast or slow. The age range is wonderful from 18 to 86 among the people I interact with. Most of us are working programs to strengthen our muscles. Right now no one is obsessed with losing weight, which makes it a very comfortable atmosphere for the wide range of bodies going through their exercises.
I have stopped comparing myself to anyone else at the gym. I have come instead to truly appreciate the people who are committed to their health, as am I. Most of us have torn this or that and have to baby this or that. But we work around whatever body part is protesting any given week and keep coming.
Sometimes when I am there, I remember playing with Dude, Skipper, Jack and Jim in the early 1950’s. I was active and happy to be climbing, swinging, and running. It is wonderful to have some of that joy returning these many years later in my local gym.
I have a relative who spent a majority of his time alone watching television. He ventured out to a mall one evening and told us he was astonished by how ugly everyone was. After hours of staring at the very unrepresentative world of “celebrity,” “personality,” and “reality television,” his perception of the actual world was warped. He truly believed that ordinary people were ugly, rather than ordinary.
The same thing happens to women my age(69) who are flooded with images of photoshopped women in their 40’s agonizing over lines on their faces. The only images I do see of women my age are botoxed, face-lifted AND photoshopped. It ends up warping my own sense of what women really look like as they age.
The picture is of my great grandmother Jenny at age 60. Her hair is gray and white, her figure is ample, her chin is beginning to sprout another chin. But what I see in this picture is a confident, loving mother of four at home in her very appropriately padded body, her bosom on its gradual way south, as all of ours drift in due time. She looks welcoming, reliable and wise. That’s a helpful image of an older woman.
Until the culture catches up with the reality of the loveliness of real women, I will treasure the photos of my ancestors and the warm, lined faces of the women who surround me at Mass every Sunday.
Well it certainly looks as if I am greeting 1949 with a good attitude! I am stepping confidently into that new year. I am trying to enter 2017 with as good an attitude, despite the great challenges facing the United States. Certainly despair, hopelessness and a bad attitude are terrible companions on the journey.
May every person around the world I have met during this first six months of this writing have the strength, hope, and courage that you need to meet the new year. I look forward to what each of you brings to my life through your writing and photography. I can’t wait to see what you will bring in the months to come.
Happy 2017. The year I will turn 70!
When I was three, my mother put a board down on the sidewalk and told me I could go down the street to the board and no farther. You can see here that my reaction was to walk back and forth along the board. I have always been interested in exploring the limits.
We all are limited both by society, culture or our environment. We also, though, limit ourselves in all sorts of ways. Sometimes we are not conscious of the ways we constrain ourselves. I wrote some months ago about beginning to go to the gym so that I could be back in my body after many years away.
At 69, my body did have some inherent limitations. I had not been particularly active for a long time, and my muscles, tendons and ligaments had either gone flaccid(my muscles) or shortened(my ligaments.) I couldn’t throw myself into a strength routine designed for 20 year olds. I had to go at the pace my body could handle, not at some mythical “get strong quick” rate. I had to ease up when a shoulder squeaked or a knee complained. I had to learn about actual limits.
But it turns out I was also limited by my own sense of my physical capability. Now, two years after beginning personal training(a necessity for me to avoid injury) I am stronger than I thought possible. I can push dumbbells overhead, slam ropes on the ground and shove medicine balls into a wall. Do I resemble the 20 year olds? Not at all. But I am slowly adding weight and repetitions to my routines. Every six weeks, my workout is a little harder. I have no idea what the limit will be in my strength building. I remain open to listening to my body and my trainer and seeing what happens.
After my successful experiences in the gym, I realized I needed to add another activity to my routine to improve my balance and flexibility. I work with a trainer two days a week now, so I wanted something new and equally challenging. Enter Tai Chi at our local senior center.
In this photo I am holding onto a chair to support my first steps. In Tai Chi, I am holding onto a chair to try to begin to learn to balance on one foot! Well, technically resting one finger on the chair, but the chair is definitely helping. This is called a beginner class, but most of the people in the class have been doing it for a long time. I really needed an “absolutely really sincerely beginner class,” but no such luck. So I am reminded that less than two years ago I had never even heard of proprioception, and I remember that mine is pretty tenuous. It would help if I had less than four limbs, each doing something different for the movements in Tai Chi. It looks effortless for those so-called beginners, but it’s going to take quite a while before I can move with grace.
Right now I am going to try balancing on one foot. For longer than 5 seconds!
We all recognize a genuine apology when we receive one. We can see the remorse in the offender, hear the grief in the voice, feel the wrong has been acknowledged and repented of. Apologies genuinely given can be genuinely received and the rift in the relationship can be mended.
It is hard to genuinely apologize to someone we have wronged. We first of all have to recognize that we have hurt someone else. Then we have to overcome the shame and the blame that comes with the realization that we have blown it. We can try to change the subject by reminding the other person that they, too, have hurt us in the past. Maybe that will take some of the heat off of us.
Or we can say a perfunctory sorry, the words coming off our lips but our body language revealing that we aren’t really apologizing. We see that in the forced speeches of prisoners of war who are told to apologize for being American. We can tell that they are merely repeating a text given to them by their captors.
Yesterday as one candidate went through his “apology” I wasn’t fooled. No woman my age could have been. We had seen that game before. And we weren’t falling for it again.
Great Performances – Joan Baez 75th Birthday Celebration The Beacon Theater, 2124 Broadway, New York, NY January 27, 2016
Last night I went to a concert of Joan Baez, now 75, performing a 90 minute concert with two musicians and one co-singer. Her son Gabriel, one of the musicians, played an astounding accompaniment on drums.
I first saw Baez in 1963(the photo on the left) in concert in Portland, Oregon with Bob Dylan. An electrical charge ran through us all, as it did between Dylan and Baez. Then her protest songs ran through my college years with her marriage to a draft objector, David Harris, highlighting my classmates resistance to the Viet Nam war. She had her son Gabriel about the same time I had my daughter, and her song “Honest Lullaby” encouraged me as a mother–“you got a mother who sings to you an honest lullaby.” Her cynical “Diamonds and Rust” with digs about Dylan resonated with my own attitude about romance at the time my marriage was dissolving.
In all, she has sung me through the majority of my life in a way that seemed quite personal. Last night, surrounded by a sea of fellow aging boomers, I realized that each of us, thinking we were alone with her voice, were actually part of an ocean of listeners. Our solitary experiences were united as we sang along, “Gracias a la Vida,” thankful for her life and our own.
I am encouraged that even at three weeks old I found push-ups difficult. I even stuck out my tongue as I tried. Regaining upper body strength as an adult has been a slow process. I am prone to tendinitis in my elbows and shoulders, and I have to carefully pace myself so that my muscles get strong enough to do the pushing and pulling. I have too often strained those tendons by not relying on the muscles. Whenever I tried to get stronger on my own at home, I would injure one or another tendon. Having a trainer has been wonderful since she adjusts my stance and modifies activities when I feel any twinge start up. This has allowed me to get a good deal stronger for the first time in years.
Patience has been the most important tool in my working to regain functional fitness. A sense of humor is also essential. Fortunately the camaraderie at the gym lets me take the process with laughter as we decide what real life skill is being developed with each new activity. Working on one legged squats we surmise would be handy if one had a broken foot. Carrying a kettle bell overhead would be good practice for portraying the Statue of Liberty at Halloween.
Jenn quickly understood my style–slow but steady. She listened carefully to my goal to regain functional fitness. Jenn was my daughter’s age and so were most of the women exercising at the time we worked together. A majority of the people around me were interested in losing weight. Several wanted to fit wedding dresses. Thankfully I was not worried about fitting in a dress as much as getting up off the floor when I was retrieving something from the back of the refrigerator.
Paul had introduced me to ropes, and I told Jenn I loved them. Basically there are two very long thick ropes attached to the wall. You lift them and them whomp them down on the floor. This is amazingly therapeutic, especially if you name each rope after a nemesis in your life, present or past. It also apparently builds muscles. That may in fact be its primary purpose, but I was so busy having fun whomping them that I never thought about my goals.
Jenn also had me lift a heavy ball and throw it down on the floor, pick it up and throw it down again. Over and over. I was having a lot of safely aggressive fun all in the name of functional fitness. Jenn and I were going to get along very well.
Well, Paul and I were getting along famously. I had even gone to Target to buy a pair of exercise pants. Not lycra of course, but very comfortable cotton knit. They went very well with my pink Niagara Falls t-shirt. I was styling. I was using 2 pound weights and beginning to find where muscles were supposed to be. They were pretty dormant, to say the least. Not entirely excited to have demands placed on them for the first time in years, they made little groans and squeaks. Still, 2 pound weights were an improvement over the first few times when I just went through the motions without any weights.
Then Paul told me that he and his girl friend( I kept asking him when he was going to make an “honest woman” of her, keeping in the in loco parentis mode) were moving west. Of course they were. As far as I can tell, every millennial in New England is moving west. Usually to Portland or Seattle. At least they were bucking the trend and going to Colorado.(#3 on desirable relocation site list for New England millennials.) Baby Boomers, by the way, seem to be going to North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida. Don’t ask.
As I waved goodbye I contemplated my fitness future. I couldn’t quit now. Well, I could, but I had to keep making payments until next year. So I reluctantly met my next trainer, Jenn, explaining all over again that I was functionally unfit and willing to try to get stronger. She smiled encouragingly and we began.