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.
Just a few weeks later, I got 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.
So there I was.
And here I am.
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?
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