Celebrating the Body I’ve Got

            I was one of those brainiac kids who loves school, but hates gym. My siblings called me a klutz. If not for a chance encounter my freshman year in college, I might never have paid my body any mind.

            There was an open house for the campus karate club, and Lord knows why, I dropped by. Goju-Kai was the type of karate, and next thing I knew, I was doing these boot camp-hard training sessions 2 and 3 times a week. After a couple of months, I realized with a shock that my body had changed dramatically: it was leaner, stronger, more defined. Hey, it liked all this attention!

Not Me-- Doing Karate

Not Me– Doing Karate

            Being strong felt great, and the ritualistic aspects of the training struck a chord I didn’t know was in me. But there were few women in the group. I could only spar with women. I got tired of being kicked by brown belts. By year’s end, I quit. My aha moment was realizing that the kata, the prescribed patterns of kicks and blocks and stances, were choreography. Hey, I was meant to dance!


Ballet Pose @ the Rodin Museum, Paris

Ballet Pose @ the Rodin Museum, Paris

            For a good many years after college, I took up to 5 dance classes a week, mostly ballet and modern. It kept me strong but also fed my spirit. Moving to live music, drums or piano, brought my head and body into the same rich hum. When that proved impractical, I switched to aerobics classes, in my teensy Jane Fonda unitards.


My fave fitness instructor in NY, Judith Scott, put a bunch of her students on the cover of her book, Good-Bye to Bad Backs!

My fave fitness instructor in NY, Judith Scott, put a bunch of her students on the cover of her 1988 book, Good-Bye to Bad Backs!


           For awhile, I had a personal trainer in NYC. In Princeton these days, I get my exercise fix through yoga, Pilates and Body Pump classes at the Y.

            But we all know what happens: life and children and age.  You come to crave that feeling of your body as well-tuned engine, and then accidents or disease steal it. You feel betrayed.  Frustrated. Angry. Helpless. Embarrassed. Cranky.

            I felt all those things. On top of the ordinary indignities of aging (like not being able to buckle any of my belts) I had to go through two “female” operations in the past 2 years. In a word, the first operation was botched, so I had to get it done properly, and endure the 8 weeks of recovery again.

            Doctors prescribed painkillers but after both surgeries, I found I needed to invent my own practical prescriptions to calm the impatience even more than the discomfort. There was a feeling of almost revulsion, inhabiting this sore, impaired, and strange-seeming body.  To lose my long-honed body-mind connection left me feeling lost, even though I knew that over time I would be able to resume my fitness level. The word “unfit” really stings.

            What was in my personal medical chest? In the first instance, my proactive response was dear friends and humor. I hosted a “Bye Bye Uterus” party the day before my surgery. I promised the “ritual burning of the tampons.”  (I’d been through menopause, but wanted to make light of what I was losing.) Instead of gifts, I asked my women friends to write toasts. We laughed and cried as they were read, and the winner of the competitive toasting was a raucous limerick I won’t share. (“There once was a woman named Meg…..)

Yes, We Are All Waving Tampons

Yes, We Are All Waving Tampons

            This medicine delivered swift results: I went into surgery still grinning. Feeling buoyed by love and empathy. When I came home to recover, there was a readymade circle of women, ready to talk to me, walk with me, feed me, or help in any way.

The Ritual Burning of the Tampons

The Ritual Burning of the Tampons

            Something different was called for the second time, a daily event that would promote physical healing but also engage my mind. I was told not to lift things, but to walk every day, so I made a ritual of it. I started a journal, on my computer, called My Comeback. Every day, as I began my walk, I took a photograph of my feet. I recorded the length of the walk, what I saw and thought, how I felt.            

Another Step Towards "My Comeback"

Another Step Towards “My Comeback”


            To keep from getting bored, I tried to walk lots of different places, and get people to join me. 

             In a slow, small way, it was profound. What it taught me is that the fullest, most satisfying way for me to live, no matter the compromised or aging state of my body, is to keep my mind and body aligned, It’s NOT my abs or butt that need to stay tight at all times, but the connection between all parts of my being.


College Days: My Spirit is Still Young!

College Days: My Spirit is Still Young!

                  I write this on the anniversary of my second surgery. At 60, I am not defined by the size of my waist, any more than I was defined by the size of my bust at 20.