I think a lot of us spend too much time feeling hopeless, helpless and powerless. But it is within each of us to change that. My Mom's greatest legacy to me and my sisters, was knowledge and confidence; knoweldge that we can do anything we set out to do and confidence to face change without fear. She never backed away from a challenge, and she never shied away from the new and unknown.
Not everybody is as lucky, I realize, to have had such a role model in thier lives. There are women out there who desperately want and need to change their lives, but don't know how or don't have the strength. That's when we have to support and empower one another; as mothers, wives, friends, co-workers, neighbors....women. When that happens, it's a truly awesome and moving thing and I have been lucky enough to have several such experiences lately.
This is a story about one of those experiences and how it has changed the way that I think about women.
Because the truth is...I haven't always particularly liked or enjoyed my gender mates. I have often avoided gatherings and groups of them. But now I see that I was wrong to judge all of womankind by the few who thrive on melodrama, gossip, scheming, conniving, and backbiting.
So. Let me tell you what changed my mind.
About six months ago, I started going to Zumba classes at a small little independantly owned studio that caters to women. My Weight Watchers leader had been hounding me to go for months, but I dragged my feet. The only reason I finally decided to take her advice and just go was because the studio was owned by her sister-in -law, whose praises she sang daily. This woman had created a place where all women could feel welcome and comfortable. It wasn't a big gym with a lot of hard bodies looking to score. Still, I was nervous. I didn't consider myself the fitness "type" and I was afraid I would stick out like a sore thumb.
My fears were completely unfounded. The class was populated with women just like me; fortyish, imperfect and just as apprehensive as I. The instructor, seeing a new face, came over to welcome me. She was a tiny little woman with a huge personality and I liked her immediately. In heavily accented English she told me not to worry if I didn't pick up the steps right away and also advised me to stop and rest if I needed to. That first class was tough, but I made it through. And when it was over, I felt like I could move mountains. I knew I had to do it again and so, I bought a punchcard and became a regular.
I felt like I belonged there. These women were like a family. The owner and all the instructors seemed to really care about giving their clients the best possible experience, but also...about making them feel welcome and valued. And I did. From the very first moment I set foot in the place.
One day, after I had been going several months, I arrived for the 9 a.m. class about fifteen minutes early, as was my habit. There was a lady there I hadn't seen before, signing up for classes. She was a large lady and I was a little worried for her. I had been exercising regularly for a good six months before I took my first class and still it kicked my butt. I didn't want her to be discouraged or disappointed with herself if she couldn't make it all the way through the class.
As I signed in, the owner of the studio, who was manning the desk that day, caught my eye and inclined her head slightly in the direction of the new gal. "HELP her!" the look said. I gave her a small nod. "I understand. I'm on it!"
I introduced myself and asked if this was her first time doing Zumba. It was. And she was scared. But she had recently joined Weight Watchers and knew that this was the next step in changing her life. We chatted about Weight Watchers a little bit, I learned a little of her personal history and then, as the music started, I tried to reassure her. I told her what I had been told when I first started; if you get lost, just step touch until you can pick it up again. If you have to stop, stop; there's no shame in being aware of your body's cues. Drink water! With that said I wished her luck and took my spot.
Throughout the class I tried to keep my eye on her. Several times our eyes met and we giggled over missteps. I gave her a thumbs up now and then, just to let her know she was doing okay. She struggled...but she perservered. Several times she stopped to catch her breath, but she always came back. She didn't quit.
Finally the music stopped and we began our cool down. Her relief was evident. But so was everyone else's. Gisela is an amazing instructor, and she works us hard. It's good to know my body can do what she asks, but it's also good when it's over. It's a satisfying kind of tired.
When we finished, I walked over and asked her how she did. Do my astonishment and dismay, she burst into tears. I didn't quite know what to do, so I just put my arm around her and hugged her until she could articulate her thoughts. By this time, others had noticed that she was crying and come over to see if they could help. The poor woman had a crowd around her as she struggled to pull herself together. Everyone murmured words of encouragement and comfort to her. They patted her arm, they squeezed her hand, they rubbed her shoulder.
Finally, she was able to speak. What she said surprised us all.
"I did it."
And then she smiled a smile that was so incandecscent it took my breath away.
There was a collective sigh of relief from the crowd. She wasn't upset because she had struggled. She was PROUD because she had kept on and made it through.
"YES! You DID do it!" I said.
And then, the crowd of women huddled around her cheered. It was a sound that still warms me to the bottom of my heart when I think of it. It was the sound of empowerment.
She laughed as she wiped away the tears streaming down her mahogany cheeks.
"I can DO this!" she said with no small measure of amazement.
The crowd agreed. "Yes you can!" was the collective reply.
It was a moment that humbled me. It was powerful and poignant and it joined us all together in the solidarity of our sex. We can do it. We can help each other do it. We can make a difference to one another.
Some of you know that I have searched long and hard to find the thing that I am meant to do. Some say it's writing. Maybe. But this....this power, this sisterhood, this amazing thing that women do for one another....that's something I want to be part of. I want to make a difference to someone who desperately needs it. I had several people walking with me on my journey; people without whom I could never have taken the first step, much less completed it. And now I would like to be a part of that legacy.
This year has been hard....yes. But it has also been filled with moments such as this. And for that I am enormously grateful. It has changed my life in ways I could not have imagined when I set out to simply change my body.
I don't feel powerless or helpless anymore. Strength...it's a gift we too often overlook I think. But it's there inside each one of us. We just have to help one another find it. I can't wait to be a part of that. Just ten more pounds, and I can begin fulfilling what I have come to think of as my destiny. That sounds silly, I suppose. But a life without purpose...well, I've learned, that's no life at all.
Womankind...you have served me well this year. I hope I can return the favor.