Thursday, June 18, 2009

Being Leftovers

Sometimes I wonder if attending a funeral during our honeymoon influenced my fairly frequent thoughts on the frailty of life. After traveling for a week, my groom and I visited his grandmother. Soon after we arrived his grandmother’s sister lost her husband in the middle of the night and the commotion woke us. I still can picture every detail of the guest room as I lay for a long time holding tight to my new husband.

This week I took my sons to see the movie Up. The loss of a long-time partner never fails to make me crumble. Since I don’t want to spoil the movie, I won’t give away any plot, but go see it even if you don’t have kids.

As many people know, one of my best and most supportive friends, Michael, lost his partner last summer. Ira’s friends and family have maintained a blog in his honor. I read the posts and feel Michael’s pain.

Reading Michael’s most recent words and seeing Up both brought me to tears, but more importantly they both showed me strength and hope after losing someone you’ve spent a lifetime loving.

So I’m sharing part of Michael’s message of renewed spirit:

He would be proud of Zachary and I but at the same time tell me to settle down -
just be. Sit on his beloved couch, read a bit, take a nap or just hang with
Zack. This Michael who understands mortgage rates, homestead exemptions and
watches the market's rise and fall would be very boring to him and worst of all
only make worry about us more. He would ask what happened to my shopping,
gardening and why aren't you sitting down to dinner anymore? The poor guy - his
last meal was leftovers and he was perfectly happy with that. I've always hated
leftovers but he defended them like a UN Peace Keeping Force.

So that takes me to the thought, in end I've become a "leftover" another way to
look at being a widower. But what if I embraced it the way he did? What if I was
a "festival of leftovers"? What if I represented the very best of what I had
been? What if what was left of me, of him, or us was the very best - made
richer, full of flavor - savory. Now I understand the attraction to the
"left-over". So cast in the light of open refrigerator I am resplendent like a
piece of apple pie at midnight or cold pizza for breakfast. So embrace your
inner leftover and maybe just maybe you'll here his chuckle, feel the warmth of
a distant smile or know the perfect happiness of cold KFC.

We shouldn’t waste our lives thinking about what was or what might be, rather we need to embrace what’s best in our lives now, confident of our love. I've become a great fan of leftovers too.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

All I Really Needed to Know About Success I Learned In Kickboxing

While grunting with each move, I push myself to complete the rotations from my kickboxing instructor. As I finish the last one I invariably think “Wow, I can’t believe I just did that!” and she almost always yells “Again!”

For the first time in my life, I’m physically pushing myself beyond anything I have ever imagined. Muscles I didn’t even know existed all over my back, sides, shoulders, arms, and legs hurt constantly. Since I never seriously trained, and only half-heartedly exercised for most of my life, I had no idea about the pain involved with reshaping your body.

In class I have the reputation of repeating the instructions. She’ll say “jump rope – 5 minutes” and I’ll incredulously repeat “5 minutes?” Granted I can jump for 5 minutes but after 20 minutes of nonstop physical activity, I’m not happy about it. In fact, I hate working out and my body groans in agreement.

I thought people simply went through repetitious moves and their bodies looked better. Now I know why people say “No pain, No gain.” How could I have been so clueless?

Lots of people have been noticing the changes in my body. They ask questions about how I’m doing it. With my slug background, I’m asking myself the same questions and the answer is always “my trainer”. She’s a natural. Having left everything behind in Chile to move to the United States, Lyu Pollard is strong and driven, which rubs off on her students. As I’ve learned and struggled, I’ve realized her methods for improving my body apply to many situations in life.

How much better can I be doing this? My trainer’s heading to California to obtain a 5th degree black belt. All the martial arts are based on improvement. There’s always a next goal. Since she participates in our instruction, we are always training right along with her. The important lesson is thinking about a next level. Never accept the present situation. To be successful we need to constantly seek the next best thing in whatever we are doing then work toward it.

Haven’t I done enough? Since my trainer grew up with a military dad who made her wake up each morning at 5:30 AM and exercise, her demeanor resembles the sergeant’s program. We sometimes hear “Let’s go soldiers.” When we don’t want to do something or start to loose energy, we need motivation. I lack discipline, but my trainer insists on it. She’s tough and points out when we are slacking or taking the easy way out. “Not like that!” “Lift your leg higher, you’re trying to kick them in the face!” Constantly test yourself to see if you can do more and go further. You might be surprised by your own stamina and dedication.

Can’t I do this alone? My kickboxing instructor used to be a trainer in one of those fancy gyms. She knows all about the muscle sets and complete fitness. Sometimes we need specific help from knowledgeable people. If you can’t make yourself do what’s necessary to improve, then find someone who is qualified to push you in the right direction. Surround yourself with good people who know what they’re doing. This might mean joining Weight Watchers, Alcoholics Anonymous or Toastmasters. Perhaps you need a special course, a partner, or work mentor. My whole life I’ve viewed getting help as a weakness but I’ve finally learned to reach out to others. I lost 50 pounds with weekly Weight Watcher meetings because of the program and the people. Everyone in my kickboxing class is supportive. We cheer each other’s accomplishments because we are all struggling together.

After my first night of kickboxing I decided that if I could actually do her class, I would be in excellent physical shape. Underneath I didn’t think it was possible, but I keep showing up.

I’m learning more than I expected.

Kickboxing Classes are at the second floor studio at Rockville Martial Arts and Learning Center (just south of Woodmont Country Club entrance). Everyone is welcome to stop by and try a class for free, no pressure. There are monthly rates or less expensive long-term commitments. Believe it or not, I still pay by the month and could revert to being a slug at any moment!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Real Life Parable Made Me Think

After church started on Easter Sunday, an Asian man in his 30’s sat down in the pew in front of me. I had the feeling he was homeless but it wasn’t obvious. I handed him my bulletin and showed him where we were. When it came time for the offering, I couldn’t help but watch. I worried because if I was right about him, this could be an uncomfortable situation. He opened his wallet and all I could see was a coupon and two dollars. He pulled out the two dollars and put them in the offering plate.

We all know about the parable of the woman giving her small amount in the temple showing far more love than the rich man who gave a larger amount but a smaller fraction of his wealth. I had witnessed the real thing. While I thought selfish thoughts on his behalf, he emptied his wallet.

So today I sit here thinking I would never give away all our money. Who would empty out their mutual funds, retirement plans, savings accounts and stocks? I wouldn't, not in a million years. Where does this leave me?

When my husband and I were young starting out, we had very little. I knew in the back of my head we were “safe” from this parable lesson. The day I married my husband he was ABD without the dissertation started and had no income. He didn’t even have a car because he had to junk it on the way to the university one morning. Meanwhile, I was working at a local nonprofit. We had nothing but our love and my large inherited real estate debt.

I learned real estate, bought and sold property, then refinanced our current house seven years ago when the interest rates hit rock bottom. One day I told my husband we had earned what we had. He was quick to point out that it was all a gift from God. He was right.

The homeless man reminded me of my wealth.

All the gifts in our lives are precious. Sometimes I think I squander love and friendship much more than money. We can lose everything we love very quickly.

While adding up the terrible investment losses from last year, I thought about everything I could have done with the money to help others and fulfill our dreams. Now I’m reminded it’s never too late to start.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been hanging onto it after all.