Thursday, October 8, 2009

Flexibility

This summer, I “celebrated” a fairly major birthday. I received a card from a local department store inviting me to enjoy my Senior discount. The checkout guy at Earthfare gave me one without my even asking for it.

Gee, thanks, for that insulting 10% savings on the tofu.

In some ways, it seems like a big joke. The surface may have changed, but there’s still a 17-year-old girl inside, on her way to a Led Zeppelin concert in a GTO. A skinny child-bride playing house. A young mother with Eighties Big Hair and a string of darling little daughters in matching outfits trailing behind her.

In other ways, I feel about 105.

Strange how life creeps and flies at the same time.

***************

My husband surprised me with the gift of sessions with a personal trainer in LA. I’m supposed to be continuing with a physical therapy/exercise program on my own, but, unfortunately, I face significant challenges in the self-discipline department. He thought I could use a little push in the right direction.

My trainer is a beautiful young woman from the Ukraine named Anastasia. I’ve always loved the name. It means “Resurrection” in Russian. She is trying to help me resurrect this tired, achy old body of mine. Sometimes I call her “Anastasia Grozhnaya,” “Anastasia the Terrible,” because she forces me out of my comfort zone. (i.e. “no pain or sweating.”)

It seems not so very long ago that I could plop myself down on the floor, throw my legs out at 180 degree angles, and press my chest to the floor. As long as I did that every once in a blue moon, it remained easy to do. Now it feels like being torn apart on The Rack.

No matter how often I stretch, it seems as if I have to start all over from Ground Zero the next time. I’m stiffer than I’ve ever been. Anastasia has to help me. When we finish the workout, she ‘stretches me out.’ Sometimes she’ll put her knee into my back and pull my arms backwards until I think they’re coming out of the sockets. Or hold my hip up at an uncomfortable angle until it trembles. I tease her that it’s KGB torture.

But it helps me. When we’re finished, my pain level is diminished. I feel energized and flexible. Less brittle and fragile.

More alive.

I realize that if I am not stretched out, these old myalgic muscles will become increasingly rigid.

(I’m on the downhill slope toward rigor mortis now.)

***************

In the years just prior to the cataclysm of April, 2008, I had become increasingly set in my ways...inflexible, unable to accept change or go with the flow. As health problems mounted, I clung to established coping mechanisms. My world was becoming increasingly smaller and smaller; more and more limited.

I absorbed negative predictions into my psyche and spirit and acted out of them. For instance, I was told by three different health–care professionals that I would probably never have another pain-free day, but that “we would learn to cope with it.”

My “I can’t…” list grew longer and longer. I grieved over the many things I thought I’d never be able to do again.

I’m doing most of those things now.

I’m also doing many things I’ve never done before. (Not to mention many things I hoped never to have to do.)

Everything about life is a stretch right now. An impossibly big stretch.

***************

At a time of life when many of my contemporaries are entering into the blissful part of empty-nesting (developing new hobbies, traveling, socializing, taking care of themselves more), I have entered into quite a different world.

I don’t get to do what I think I want to do as often as I’m used to doing so.

I spend much more time doing things I’m not good at, and don’t particularly enjoy doing. Things such as cooking, cleaning, laundry…..even (gasp) ironing on occasion. Pushing, pulling, bending, reaching, running after a toddler…..sometimes, almost literally back-breaking work for me. Relativity again…it might be bare exertion for you.

But it’s a big deal for me. Sorry to sound like a spoiled brat, but it is what it is. I grew up in a home with household help. The first thing I did with my very first paycheck was to hire help. I (sacrificially) went without a single new item of clothing for well over a year, but at least we had clean toilets. I considered this to be good stewardship. I hired someone to help me do the things I don’t do well, so that I could invest more time doing those few things that I can do well.

For more than 20 years, our family has been blessed by a 6th member named Diane. She is the only one who knows whose socks go in which drawer. She is the brains of the household. Diane knows how to do things I don’t know how to do. She knows all of our dirty laundry, inside and out. She is an angel.

She is also my friend. But Diane doesn’t come to California with me.

It’s a stretch.

A few years ago, I developed significant sIeep/breathing issues. Because of that, I had to go through elaborate sleep rituals every night. Conditions had to be perfect in order to achieve Phase 4. Now I feel kind of like that ‘free-spirit’ college friend who always carried a toothbrush in her purse because she never knew where she might wake up. Like her, I’m all over the place these days. Occasionally, I wake up in our rickety old canopy bed in Athens, surrounded by pillows that need replacing and impossibly soft, but threadbare, sheets. Sometimes I wake up way too early in my apartment in LA, roused by the hellish howling of my neighbors’ dogs. Other mornings, I might awaken to discover a little boy draped over my head, soggy diaper in my face. There are some days when I wake up to an apartment (that looks like a frat house the morning after a party) full of people, and tiptoe around trying to make coffee without waking up whoever’s on the couch. I might be sleeping on a college dorm-style mattress in Pomona with a cute college-aged roommate, trying not to scare her with my nightly apnea gasps...or I could be in the spare bed in James’ room, trying to lie still as a mouse. Sometimes I even wake up on the couch. Occasionally, it feels a bit like being at camp or on a mission trip.

It’s a stretch.

Life is unpredictable now. Katherine has always been a big planner. We get the calendars out and try to make schedules, in an effort to force some order out of chaos. But our plans are constantly changing. Often, we are the mercy of other people’s plans and schedules. The unexpected is the norm. Frequently, I think of things I’d like to do, but half the time it doesn’t happen. Interruptions and ‘surprises’ intervene. I don’t get my own way.

An only child for the first 6 years of my life, I have always been someone who frequently needs ‘alone time’ to stay within the bounds of sanity. Now, there are times when that is an impossibility. Frequently, both space and peace remain elusive.

Everything seems a little crazy, upside-down, discombobulated. I’m getting mail from the AARP while trying to remember how to swing on the jungle gym…watching “Thomas the Train” instead of the evening news.

The constant traveling adds to a sense of disorder and confusion. It has gotten no easier with experience. Things are continually getting lost in transit. The time changes are wearing. By the time I get used to a new zone, it’s time to switch back. I’m getting tired. I’m not as young as I used to be.

It’s a stretch.


But I’ve learned a lot about stretching lately:

The less you do it, the harder it becomes.

As we ‘mature’ in the physical sense, it’s easy to develop rigidity in other areas as well. Our minds and hearts can become as rigid as our stiffening muscles and as unbending as our stiffening spines. When this happens, we become used to doing things a certain way…MY way. We resist change of any kind. We close our minds to new ideas, harden our hearts to fresh loves. Habits become idols. We become inflexible and unyielding.

Rigidity of thought, attitude, and action may lead to becoming what the Old Testament refers to as “stiff-necked people.”

They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.' "I have seen these people," the LORD said to Moses, "and they are a stiff-necked people. (Exodus 32:8-9)

Centuries later, the apostle Peter used the term again: "You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!” (Acts 7:51)

God forbid that my neck become any stiffer than it already is!

I think the key to the prevention of that is in the verse from Acts. I have to stop resisting. I need to learn to stop fighting against the inevitable or cursing the unpreventable.

Although things often lose their meaning when they become rote, sometimes it’s good to take a look at the old Serenity Prayer with a fresh eye. The ability “…to accept the things I cannot change…” is a great gift.

I hope and pray that, with old age, will come wisdom. I want to be a wise old woman (who still likes to dance.) I want to become more mature in my faith as I “mature” in every other way.

I’ve come up with a new definition of what that means:

MATURITY: Being okay with not getting your own way.

Lord, please save me from 50-something-year-olds who haven’t learned this yet. (Including myself.)

Part of the maturation process involves laying down my rights and my own selfish desires. Many of the eastern religions define happiness as “the absence of desire.” There is truth in that. We are unhappy because of thwarted “wants,” whether they be things, relationships, or occurrences. I have been happiest in life at those times when I’ve felt that there was absolutely nothing more to want…such as after the birth of my first child. That feeling of complete fullness is rare on earth. The Christian translation of the eastern philosophy might be, “Let my desires become the same as Yours.”

If I want to mature, I have to allow God to stretch me spiritually, just as I allow Anastasia to stretch me physically. Both processes are sometimes painful. But the alternatives are worse. I made up a little litany to remind myself whenever I start to resist: “Stretch or ache; bend or break.” I know the stretching process will involve doing things I just really don’t want to do…but it is necessary if I truly want to become more pliant and supple, more open and free.

Recently, I took a yoga class in LA. As we were doing the last deep relaxation exercises, the instructor softly spoke these words:

"Men are born soft and supple; dead, they are stiff and hard. Plants are born tender and pliant; dead, they are brittle and dry. Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible is a disciple of death. Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life. The hard ...and stiff will be broken. The soft and supple will prevail." ~ (Lao-tzu)

I am a disciple of life….of Life Himself.

The next time He asks me to stretch, I’m going to try to remember some things I’ve learned through the occasional yoga class. I know the most important thing is to breathe.

I will remind myself to breathe much more slowly and deeply.

This will be my mantra:

Breathe out fear, breathe in faith; breathe out anxiety, breathe in peace; breathe out sadness, breathe in joy; breathe out exhaustion, breathe in vitality; breathe out sin, breathe in forgiveness; breathe out self, breathe in God.

Breathe in LIFE.


I wish I’d known these things when I was younger.

***************

p.s. Thank you to those who prayed for my 'flexibility' with the Mac. In some ways, it’s been a stretch. But I think we’re learning to like each other. (I was kidding when I said "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." That's what it's all about. God can even make an old leopard spotless!)

9 comments:

Carine said...

Hi Kim - I start the day by checking Katherine and your blogs with my morning cup of coffee.
Thank you for your thoughts today - what perfect timing for me at a time when I really need to BE FLEXIBLE! Lots of love, strength, courage... Carine

plilr said...

I can completely sympathize with the physical inflexibility issue. I started training last year by taking Pilates classes (and if you've never tried it, I strongly recommend it) and although I am now more flexible than I've ever been--I was never a child that was really bendy!--it's still very hard, especially with a shoulder injury and neck issues. But you are right--I always feel so much better after a good workout. Feels like the blood is flowing much better! And I also see a chiropractor. I don't know how you feel about that--some people really don't like them--but I have a very good one in Studio City if you need a recommendation. And, as an added bonus, I just read that the more flexible you remain as you go through life, the healthier you are--your arteries are less likely to stiffen. Neat, huh?

Happy belated birthday! And 50 isn't old--not at all. You look amazing--Katherine looks so much like you! And you are handling the challenges that have presented themselves in your life beautifully and with such grace. I enjoy reading your blog (and Katherine's) so much. I'm so glad to get to be part of your journey.

Wishing you pain free and restorative sleep for the coming nights!

You guys are always in my thoughts and prayers!!

Much love,

Desiree

*has the Wolf family relocated to their new home? Has Jay found out about his bar exam? Just curious. Those are certainly big events!!

Kim Godawa said...

I love the visual - linking the body and spiritual stretching. How I needed to hear these words today....I've been very stiff and hard-hearted lately. Thanks for calling us out of our comfort zones - with truth, vulnerability and love. God speaks volumes to me through your words..
~Kim

Allison said...

I just want to tell you that your mantra really moved me. Do you mind if I put that up on my mirror in my bathroom to read every morning?;)

elizabeth said...

I know i will be arrested for causing bodily harm to the woman at Kroger that asks me every Wed. (why do I go on that day??) senior discount? I know she's just being catty, she must be, because I know I look cute that day and still...senior discount?I finally told her one day that I would come up there the very Wed I qualified and she could ask me. A stretch, yes, I think so. I must learn to be flexible and stretch like you both physically and spiritually. Thank you for the reminder
l
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Deet said...

kim, i only know you remotely from my connection with the wolf family (our son is married to the lovely sarah wolf!!). your writing on flexibility was one of the most profound ever. thank you so much for being so brutally honest in a world that encourages masks and deceit. i am encouraged by what you share and from the bottom of my heart, i thank you. AND, i have met the lovely katherine and she remains my heroine.i began praying for her while she was in surgery that momentous april day...still am.

Kim Arnold said...

Dear Ladies,

I love you all...both those I know 'in the flesh,' and those I don't!

Thank you so very, very much for your encouragement and prayers!

Blessings!
Kim

Ruth said...

Hmmm . . .I think I knew that college friend! Kim, I love you and miss you, and am SO PROUD of you for your stamina, your humour, and your devotion to your family. I remember my fascination with the girl I'd come visit in her dorm room, contacts and curlers cooking, getting ready for her date with a KA - you were always the belle of the ball - still are! Love, Ruthie

Kim Arnold said...

Oh, my "Holly Golightly" friend was amazing. (Still is!)

Send me your email!

I love you, too!