For years my doctor urged me to exercise and for years I ignored him. Until my daughter spoke up.
Posted in , Oct 26, 2010
"How do you feel?” My husband Gene’s familiar question came as early morning light crept through the lace curtains into our bedroom. My silence said it all. For months I’d barely managed to get out of bed by noon. Lately I hadn’t even made that herculean effort.
Gene reached over and held my hand. My thoughts felt like poison darts from an unseen enemy: You’ll never have energy again. Stay in bed. It’s all downhill from here. The good life is over. Just pray that God has mercy on you.
Three years earlier I’d been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. At last the joint problems I’d dealt with for the past few years made sense. Except now the pain was far worse. Hands, feet, knees, elbows, shoulders—everything hurt. I barely made it from the bedroom to the sofa most days. Forget about cooking, cleaning or shopping. Just thinking about folding the laundry exhausted me. I had no spark. Didn’t want to leave the house. Didn’t want to feel, didn’t want to think. Not even my favorite Milk Duds brought a smile.
The phone rang. My daughter Julie. She phoned most mornings to check on me. “How are you?” she asked. That question again.
“Mother, you’ve got to exercise,” Julie said before I could answer. Exercise! If one more person told me to exercise, I’d scream. Every three-month checkup with my rheumatologist: “What are you doing for exercise?” Gene, gently, every day: “Honey, exercise is the key.”
How did anyone expect me to exercise if I could barely dress myself? “Exercise strengthens muscles and bones, lessening impact on the joints, and it improves circulation,” the doctor repeated until I was sick of hearing it. “You won’t get better without exercising.” Okay, but I was too ill, too old for any of that now. Wasn’t that obvious?
“Mother, I’m going to ask you to do something for me,” Julie said. Her voice was soft but no-nonsense. “I want to take you to my YMCA to work out. An hour of yoga. Do it for me. Please.”
Startled, I held the phone and thought. Julie had only asked me for two things in her life and she was 50. In tenth grade she’d wanted a pair of bright green wedge-heel shoes. I knew they’d hurt her feet. Sure enough, they did, but she never complained. Then, barely out of high school, she and Ricky, the love of her life, wanted to be married. Even though her father and I were certain they were too young, we gave our blessing. Rick and Julie have been married over 30 years now. How could I not grant only the third request she’d ever made of me?
“Okay, Julie.” I figured I’d faint during the first 10 minutes of the class and she’d never ask again.
I managed to get dressed and drive to her house. Together we went to her Y. The building was brand new, sleek and beautiful—the opposite of me. The yoga room looked like a dance studio: hardwood floor, mirrors on the wall, windows overlooking rolling green pasture. I was definitely the oldest person in the room. Julie laid out a mat for me and I gingerly sat down.
“Okay,” said the teacher. “Let’s start with some prayer.”
I looked up in surprise. The instructor recited the Lord’s Prayer then started us with some stretching. At once I was in terrible pain. A few more moves and I saw spots before my eyes. The instructor quoted Scripture to accompany each new position.
I can’t do this! my mind screamed in protest.
“I can do all things through him who gives me strength,” the instructor intoned.
Okay, I thought, maybe I can do two more positions—for Julie.
“My power is made perfect in weakness.”
Oh, Lord, was I ever weak!
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart.”
God, help me, please.
I hurt right up to the last move. Never in my life had I been so thankful something was over! Julie took me out for lunch afterward. “You did good,” she said. “You look better now. I was afraid I’d pushed you too hard.”
“I’m fine,” I lied, my legs still shaky beneath our table.
“Will you come with me next week?” she asked.
“Will you check out your own Y?”
The next morning I awoke to the sunlight creeping through the lace curtains. Before I’d even opened my eyes I felt the strangest sensation. The blackness, the lethargy, the despair—they were all gone!
Huh? All I’d done was endure an hour of torture. And yet there it was, light streaming into the dismal places inside me. A simple feeling I hadn’t known for months—joy.
“How are you?” Gene’s familiar question hung between us.
“I feel wonderful,” I said, hardly daring to believe it.
“How can that be?”
“I have no idea—but it’s real. I’m not even going to try to figure it out. You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to join the Y!”
Julie’s Y was an hour from our house. Closer was the Y in Athens, about 20 minutes away. Approaching in my car I felt doubts creep back. Julie wasn’t with me this time. That yoga class had nearly killed me. The brown-brick building loomed as I found a parking spot under a huge shade tree. Even opening the heavy glass entrance door was hard. I said a prayer for strength, filled out some paperwork and headed for my first class, shallow-water aerobics followed immediately by an exercise class called Silver Sneakers. The classes met Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, starting at nine in the morning.
The pool was immense, Olympic-size. The chlorine smell reminded me of swimming in high school. How I’d loved the water then! I looked at the wall. Printed in letters half as tall as I am were the words, This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.
I slipped into the water and immediately five people made their way toward me and introduced themselves. They smiled. So I did too. The music started and our instructor began the class. There must have been 50 people. Women in the back row laughed and talked, hardly paying attention to the instructor. Just like high school, I thought.
A woman with color-coordinated shoes, bathing suit and towel strolled in late and took her time arranging her things. Ah, our homecoming queen. But the real social butterfly of the class was a man. He smiled at me encouragingly and somehow seemed to be able to talk to five different people at once.
A happy-looking lady studied my hair and yelled out, “Hey, Red, you’re going the wrong way!” I changed direction and we both laughed. “I’m Marie,” the woman said. “From New Orleans. Escaped the hurricane. I’m taking this class to lose weight.” A Ray Charles song blared from the instructor’s boom box. Marie laughed delightedly and swayed with her eyes closed.
The music changed to a slow song from the fifties and a silver-haired couple behind me began dancing together right there in the water. A country-western number came next. A gentleman hollered out, “Yee-haw. Bring it on!” Laughter erupted.
“’Bye, Red,” Marie said when the class ended. “See you Wednesday.”
“For sure,” I called back, climbing out of the pool.
After my Silver Sneakers class, I called Julie on my cell phone. “Guess where I am?”
“I don’t know, Mother. Are you okay?”
“I’m much better than okay. I’ve joined my Y and just finished two hours of exercise.” I held the phone away from my ear for Julie to scream.
“And guess what else?” I continued. “They must put something in that water besides chlorine.”
“What on earth do you mean, Mother?”
“Everyone in water aerobics was laughing and having a wonderful time. Including me.” I thought of all the people who had exhorted me to exercise, to get moving, and how stubbornly I’d resisted this God-given help.
“Oh, Mother, you really like it, then?”
I grinned. “Yee-haw. Bring it on!”
Watch a slide show of Marion in the water!
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