Finding Humility at the NY State Fair

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My family went to the New York State Fair every summer. We visited The Dairy Building to check out the enormous butter sculpture and, afterwards, waited in a ridiculously long line to get a free baked potato, topped with butter and sour cream. We admired the plants and flowers, the oversized fruits and vegetables, the goats and cows and swine. I looked forward to sipping fresh-squeezed lemonade out of a chubby yellow straw.

The last time I attended the State Fair was August 29, 2012.

My son and I and met my parents there. We stopped at the US Army exhibit where officers encouraged passers-by the try a pull-up challenge. When no one was participating, they demonstrated how “easy” it was to do ten pull-ups with pronated hands.

I’ve always admired that kind of raw strength.

I watched a few people struggle to do even one, and I remember thinking, “Wow, these people are really weak.” (Not so nice, I know. but that’s where I was.) And it was with great swelling pleasure, I stepped up to the bar and showed the world how a 45-year old woman could do 7 pull-ups.

No problem.

Just a few weeks later, I got sick.

Very sick.

I couldn’t go to the gym for over 2 years, and my muscles wasted away.

Now that I’m back to taking care of my body, I’ve been lifting weights again, trying to regain all that I lost.

When I was going thru benzodiazepine withdrawal, I never thought I’d ever be able to leave the house again. The symptoms lasted for months and years, and I didn’t know a single person who could tell me that my symptoms – though horrifying – were temporary. There were no support groups. Doctors told me that my illness was evidence that I needed to stay on the medication. I just keep holding on, white-knuckled.

Going to the Fair was a goal I set for myself this year.

I never thought I’d ever be able to do it, but there I was doing it.

I parked my car, figured out how to get in, walked to The Antique Tractor display…all by myself. I met some people and, together, we walked to the Iroquois Indian Village, watched men and women dance in slow circles as elders beat a drum and chanted. We walked around the midway,  saw the cows and goats and horses.

It was as if nothing had changed, not one moment had passed.

I remembered how I’d once easily completed those pull-ups, how my father had commented on my strength, how the men and women in uniform had praised me and joked that I could have a career in the military, so when I saw the familiar US Army exhibition, I was curious to see if I could still do it, three years later. Tossing my purse on the ground, I stepped right up. The bar was higher than I remembered, but I grabbed it.

There was no turning back.

I’ve always prided myself on my physicality. I was a dancer, a gymnast and a cheerleader. I was graceful and strong. Just a few weeks earlier, I’d helped my father use a chainsaw to take down some thick branches.

Using all my strength, I found – to my horror – I couldn’t complete a single pull-up.

Not. One.


The Agony of Defeat.

So there I was.

And here I am.

Feeling humble.

Realizing I’m not be as strong as I once was.

That it is unlikely I’ll ever be that strong again.

And yet feeling strangely grateful.

I mean, at least I have arms.

I can embrace people that I care about fully.

I can touch and hold and offer.

And I’m laughing.

Because it’s important to remember to laugh at ourselves.

(Y’all, I looked like a doofus.)

And I’m realizing that despite my lack of physical strength, well… I can celebrate the fact that I’m growing my inner strength, how all this adversity has proved that I am a survivor.

(Even if I never make it on the TV show.)

It feels good, this coming back to life.

I’m a baby phoenix.

This time, with each failure, I realize I’m learning to fly.

When is the last time you embarrassed yourself in public?

tweet me @rasjacobson


13 responses to “Finding Humility at the NY State Fair

  1. Renee, you are much stronger in other ways!
    I am a klutz, I embarrass myself weekly, usually in a way that shows my clumsiness, I trip on nothing. The last (big-time trip) that I tipped on nothing was when I was in NYC crossing Broadway on 84th, it was so embarrassing!


    • Sara! Thank you so much for sharing. You have become one of my closest friends. I value you so much! You are truly one of the best things that has ever come out of this horrible experience. You are a blessing to me and so many people. People who love us don’t care if we can’t do pull-ups or it we stumble. ❤


  2. Faith Ertischek

    I feel your pain. I, too, was once very strong. I’ve always been athletic. I played softball, basketball, field hockey, flag football, water polo, lifted weights. I even earned a black belt in karate when I was 10 weeks pregnant with my first child. I loved all that my body was capable of! Even my job often required me to haul around computer equipment. Others were cautioning me not to lift those heavy things; after all, I am a petite woman, and how could I possibly do all that? (They didn’t know my college friends referred to me as Mighty Mouse!) Then I, too, got sick. I needed major surgery. But 5 months after my surgery, I was ready to get my strength back. I started back at the gym and diligently went to a 6 am PowerFlex class three times a week. I was getting strong again! But after just a few months, I developed another issue that was actually probably caused by the weight lifting, and I had to stop that. It’s been a slow decline since then. I hate that I can no longer do things that had once been so easy. But I try not to embarrass myself in public!


  3. Your strength isn’t muscular. Strength of character is more important and you’ve got that.


  4. Thank you so much for sharing your story! You give me hope…I am in withdrawal from two ssri’s and Adderall. I have been off now for 14 months but am still healing from all the damage from these horrible drugs. How I long to enjoy all the simple pleasures of life, like spending time at a fair with friends, painting a piece of furniture, or even baking a cake. I am still hanging on and hoping for that day! Once again, thank you for being such an encouragement!


  5. everytime I go out–I embarrass myself publicly–I just try to hide it – lol
    good for you for even trying and taking a risk!


  6. In public? Saturday night. On a stage. In front of an audience. During intermission. Singing. It was my college fight song for the first time in forever. I hadn’t even been drinking. I’m not an extrovert but I can fake it so people don’t see the introvert that I am.

    “…where the introverts stare at their shoes and the extroverts stare at your shoes.” – Tim Bedore


  7. Glad you made it to the Fair, Renee–it was fun to go as kids and it is still entertaining. I think the height of the bar was a big factor, but the important thing is that you tried! Hey, I’m still humiliated by the memory of not being able to climb past the knot on the rope in grade school gym class. Hope we can connect sometime before long. 🙂


  8. I’m so not athletic, and I’ve never been able to do a pullup! Do you think you’ll be able to rebuild strength in time?


  9. Oh my, is that a loaded question. I must embarrass myself at least once a day, and likely twice daily. I teach kids – 8th graders – and if you remember or know anything about adolescents, most anything can be embarrassing. That’s why I stopped using the word hard in class, as in, Careful, I know you think this assignment will be hard….. Instead, I use challenging. Nuf, said. Renee, I admire your gumption and drive. I never was very good at pull ups – I had to do at least three when I was in NROTC in college, it was part of the PFT (Personal Fitness Test) and three was the minimum, and twenty the maximum. I seem to remember I did four. I can’t do a single one now, I simply don;t have the arm strength and I am not as light as I once was some thirty some odd years ago. Again, nuf said.

    Strength is relative – you have strength of character, integrity, and grit which is significantly more strength than most people young or old possess., Great post. Have a wonderful week. Peace.


  10. State Fairs are SO MUCH FUN!!! What a wonderful family tradition Renee! And if you really want to get into shape in order to join our fantastic Armed Services and become a bad-ass Black Ops agent — wink wink — then I KNOW you could do it once you set your mind & heart to it!!! NO PROBLEM! 😛

    My most recent public embarassment of myself?

    So glad you’re are only asking for one! I had been at the Auto/RV repair shop we’ve always used for particular fixes, and I had gone into the bathroom to wash my hands and face; the pollen and allergies outside were bad that day. But there was another MORE IMPORTANT reason I went in there! “Amanda” was the extremely attractive office/customer service Rep — I always looked for problems in/on our RV or autos so that I had to take the “broken vehicle” to that shop for immediate repairs! 😀

    After some 15-20 mins of her and I trying to find the EXACT replacement light fixture and bulbs, I walked out, got into my Camry and as I sat there flattering myself endlessly about how obviously interested she had been in me and my cool olive-drab shorts… there around my crotch was a wet water-spot the size of a Texas I had splashed and spilt off the bathroom counter and onto my shorts without noticing.

    Lesson of the Day? When trying to impress a Lady, use the hand air-sanitizer LIBERALLY when making a good or bad impression! And pray no one walks in the bathroom while you are performing the Macarena-drying dance! 😮


  11. I always love reading your blog but this time you really had me with The NYS Fair! We haven’t been in years and reminisced over the butter sculptures, ice sculptures, free milk, baked potatoes, over sized produce, equestrian shows, etc. just like you I grew up with The Fair. We talked about going this year but schedules just didn’t permit. I am thinking “road trip” next summer!
    And never mind your physical strength for a 40-something, you have more than proven your spiritual strength and mindfulness. While you need to take care of your body these latter two will carry you further in life.


  12. Great read.


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