20 May 2003

The Joy of Sitting Still

May 20, 2003

I went to a funeral a few weeks back.   The funeral was for a man I did not know as well as I should have, but who was loved and respected by our church and the larger community.  Over 200 people crowded into our small church to pay their last respects.  The pews were full, the extra row of seating that had been added was full and the walls were full of people who crowded in for standing room only.

It was a wonderful tribute to a life fully lived.

About three-quarters of the way though the service, one of our elderly parishioners fainted and struck his head on the floor.   I could feel everyone in the church suddenly fixing their attention on the spot where he fell and I could hear whispers as everyone tried to figure out what was going on.  I could see that one of our very competent members who was also acting a general usher and organizer was going for the phone and I could hear 911 being called in the background.  What seemed to be fifteen doctors and nurses consulted about how best to make the man comfortable while waiting for the paramedics.

After a prayer for the man who had fallen, it was decided that we would resume the service until the ambulance arrived.  One of the deceased friends, who had been in the middle of his speech when all this began, started up again.  We all tried to listen attentively and give the wounded man a little respite from our stares.  The crowd of medical people around him had sorted itself out into a reasonable order and there was not much else for the rest of us to do.

The mourner had not gotten much further in his speech when the welcome sound of the ambulance siren was heard in the distance.   He paused as the EMT’s made their way in past the alter to the stricken man.  They worked with him for a bit.  The organist tried to give him some privacy by playing softly in the background but the man’s voice was weak enough that the EMT’s couldn’t hear over the music so they asked that it stop.  They worked for a few more minutes and then helped him get onto the stretcher.  Suddenly he rose up in the air as the stretcher popped up into its rolling position.  We were still all seated so we had to look up to see him.  He was sitting up, and receiving oxygen and, best of all, he was conscious.

Spontaneous applause erupted throughout the church.  I remarked to my husband that it was one of the only times I had heard applause during a church service.

The poor man whose remembrance had been interrupted picked up where he had left off and gave a very moving portrayal of his long-time-friend’s life.

I don’t often find joy at a funeral but this one time, between the life of the man we were remembering and the life of the man who we had seen lifted up above us there was a real celebration in that room.  

In the chruch and in life, there is a time to weep and a time to laugh.  That day was a time to sit still do both.

10 May 2003

Little Things

May 10, 2003

I’ve been getting the message all my life it seems.  The daily bombardment of fitness commercials, advise from my doctor, articles in magazine and newspapers touting the benefits of working out on some sort of schedule.  The two problems have always been, I don’t take being told what to do well and, I’ve never been a person who could keep  a consistent schedule.

In January I had a revelation.  I play in a fantasy role-playing group and once a month or so we get together and pretend that our characters are running around a fantastic Victorian England in 1870.  One day after we had finished playing and were cleaning up and putting the house back in order I realized that my character was leading a very disciplined life in the midst of the chaos of her adventures.  She got up early every morning and worked out, then after breakfast she would spend time studying a foreign language with other characters from the group. 

Now those folks who know me in real life know that I only need my fingers (and not my toes) to count the number of sunrises I have witnessed in my life time.  They also know that if I can get out the door on the third try it is a minor miracle.  So it wasn’t too surprising that I would give my alter ego some of the attributes I wished to have.  What was surprising was when I looked back over the characters I have had over the past ten years I found that they had several things in common.  The two most obvious were that they were physically fit, the other was an almost universal ability to learn new languages.  

I was already taking steps to learn the only language I have ever felt an affinity for so I decided to look more closely at how physical fitness, or lack thereof, played out in my daily life.

In the fall I had been diagnosed with one of the many conditions that can improve if the patient loses weight.  In the past few months, as a result of a friend who was considering weight loss surgery, I learned a lot about body mass index and other measures for determining the impact weight might be having on my life.  I decided not to focus on losing weight because that seemed to be something that was outside of my control.  Also I had spent many years learning to be okay with the shape I was, and really what I wanted to change was my ability to do things, not my ability to fit into certain clothes or be a certain shape.  

My goals were simple.  I wanted to be able to fold myself in half and touch the floor with the palms of my hands, in short I wanted to be more flexible.  I also wanted to be retain my ability to lift and carry my son when I felt like it, even as he grew longer and heavier, I wanted to be stronger.

I started with fifteen minutes of beginning yoga each day.  I already had a book and a mat from a previous failed attempt at this very thing.  This time something strange happened, I stuck to it.  I am now into my fifth month of yoga and still going along.  I visited my doctor for a follow-up visit to see how my condition was doing and she noticed that I had lost weight in the six months since she last saw me.  That was nicely encouraging.  What was even better was the first time I was able to lift my legs up over my head without overly relying on momentum to get them up their.

While I was waiting in the doctor’s office, I noticed that one of the brochures lying about was a very simple weight lifting program for folks who wanted to improve there strength.  It was about a third generation photocopy but I picked it up and took it home.  All the exercises in it seemed simple and straightforward and I had a set of small hand weights that Exercise Santa had brought our household a few years ago.  So, once again, I had everything I needed to get started without having to leave the house.  

I’ve stuck with that routine now for the past two months and have already noticed some benefits even at the very low weights that I am using.

Will I continue along this path?  Your guess is as good as mine.  But the benefits that I have derived from it are tangible and the motivation to start came not from someone telling me that it was the right thing to do (which I already knew) but from letting my fantasy world come to visit my daily life, instead of making it a one way trip each time.