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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Living With Parkinson's # 12 -Rising to the Challenge

Byline: Debbie Shapiro

Once a week, on Thursday mornings, I climb the hill to a nearby women's gym to do aerobic dancing along with dozens of other women, most in the early twenties.  Although I modify the teacher's instructions to suit my own fitness level, which means that while the other women jump high in the air, or spin around the room, I step spritely in place, I still manage to work up a good sweat. I don’t particularly care for the music they have accompanying the class, but the fast tempo of it impels me to move fast, which is just what the doctor ordered.

One of the most amazing things about Parkinson's is that since it's really all in the head (as in it is neurological, not psychological), although walking is difficult, dancing is a pleasure! (There are people with Parkinson's who cannot walk, yet, because a different part of the brain is responsible for these tasks, can play tennis, or ice hockey or dance unassisted!). The instructor, a sweet young girl with hair pulled back into a curly pony tail, often throws me a huge smile and gives me the thumbs up (that's E for Effort).

Sometimes, during the few seconds that we have to rehydrate ourselves between dances, a few of the women in class tell me how much they admire me for sticking with it, and for trying (with emphasis on the word "trying") to keep up with the teacher. One women breathlessly asked me if I was a certain well-known rebbetzin, so even though I have no doubt that I look ridiculous (I mean, really, Debbie, can't you act your own age?) at least it’s a respectful-looking ridiculous!

Just to give you an idea how incredibly young most of my fellow-dancers are, a couple of weeks ago, I stood waiting for the elevator together with five absolutely adorable women from the class, each pushing a stroller containing an equally adorable baby. They were having a very animated discussion on (I kid you not) how incredibly old their husbands had become (it took a long time for the elevator to come as the women were so involved in their conversation it never occurred to them to press the button). "I can't believe it," said one. "My husband turned twenty-six last week!"

Amidst gasps of amazement at the passing of time, another continued, "And mine just turned twenty-five. He's so, so ooooold!"  The conversation continued in a similar vein until I finally pointed out that the elevator will never arrive if no one presses the button. Then, when it did arrive five seconds later, I quickly slipped into the open door while the others continued their discussion, this time about various strategies to fit five women with five strollers into a two by four elevator. As the door was closing (with only me in it!), I turned to the women and said, "Let me give you my blessings that someday you be married to old men!"

Yes, I realize that the above paragraph really has nothing to do with Parkinson's, but I had to share it with you because (a) it really is a very funny story, (b) it demonstrates the age difference between me and the other women in the class and (c) I secretly hope that that the women who were standing there will read this and, much to their horror, discover that the decrepit old lady who can barely keep up with the class is really a famous woman in disguise (yes, this last sentence contains plenty of literary license).

One morning, after a particularly grueling hour trying to keep up with the young folks, I decided to relax in the lounge before returning home. As I stood at the water cooler, waiting for my disposable cup to finish filling, I kvetched to a grandmotherly looking woman, who, instead of jumping around like a meshugenah, was sanely sitting on the couch, knitting something, most probably baby booties. “Oy, ein li koach,” I said. ”Oy, I have no more strength.” 

The woman stopped her knitting for a moment, looked me straight in the eye and retorted, “Al tagidi she’ein lach koach. Tagidi, 'Hashem, ten li koach.’" “Don't say that you don’t have any koach. Instead, say, ‘Hashem, give me koach.’”

As I dragged myself home, barely able to put one foot in front of the other, I couldn't stop thinking about the woman’s words. It suddenly dawned on me that I was so focused on my doing whatever is in my power to overcome my physical challenge, I was forgetting Who gave it to me, and that together with the physical aspects of the challenge is the spiritual hard work of using this nisayon as a tool to grow in my connection to Him.

But the problem is that I am – well, um, (blush, blush) lazy. I am not one of those amazing women who spend their Shabbos afternoons learning the parashah with several different meforshim or fervently reciting Tehillim. I need a shiur to inspire me, and that, too, has become a problem. I have what's called a resting tremor, which means that when I am relaxed, my arm is not. And since I am afraid that the other women at the shiur will stare at me, I end up concentrating on trying to stop the shaking, usually without success. Then, to top things off, when I sit for any length of time, I often feel like a kid with ADHD – it's as if there's an electric current running inside my limbs and I need to tap my feet and move my hands and arms around (this is aptly called restless arm/leg syndrome, and is typical of Parkinson's disease). Since I really can't give into that urge, a lot of my energy goes into keeping myself still, which, of course, takes away from my level of concentration.

But several months ago I was asked to speak to a group of Bais Yaakov girls on a tour of Eretz Yisrael. In preparation, I downloaded shiurim to my MP3 player and then listened to them at every opportunity – while walking to the gym, sitting on a bus, waiting for doctor, washing dishes, folding laundry and dusting the furniture. On Friday night, instead of immersing myself in the latest Binah, I reviewed the parashah with Rashi. Shabbos morning, my questions on the sedrah at the seudah were the catalyst for an interesting family discussion. That entire week I was thinking over the ideas I had heard in the shiurim while deciding what concept I wanted to convey to these girls and how I would use inyanim from the parashah to get my point across. Through formulating my own thoughts, the ideas became very concrete to me, and because of that, I couldn't be complacent with my level of spiritual growth. Suddenly, I found myself davening with just a bit more kavanah and being more careful about many of the things I too often do by rote. Maybe I am onto something!

Like most of us, I need something to impel me to grow, be it writing for Binah or giving a shiur. So thank you for allowing me to use these pages to formulate my thoughts. Who knows, perhaps with all this chizuk I am getting through writing to you, I might eventually transform myself into someone actually worthy of sharing my thoughts with the chashuve women reading the magazine!

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