Last week, in the middle of a miserable afternoon, I had a flash of exactly what I needed to infuse my mothering life with more joy and vitality.
Starting about a decade ago, for 5 years I went to the gym every day. And any day I didn’t go to the gym, I felt it. I felt less happy, less alive even. But one day I showed up at my beloved gym and the door was locked and covered with a handwritten sign that read “Gone Bankrupt.”
That was 4 years ago, and in the meantime I was busy buying a house and selling a house and (a few days later) having a baby followed by renovating a house and moving. I did exercise every day by going on brisk walks, but it just wasn’t the same.
So last week, the morning after I had my miserable afternoon catharsis, I went to the join a gym.
When I used to go the gym, I never went to classes. I just stuck with the treadmill and weights. But on my way down the stairs from the dressing room to the treadmills, I loved watching the zumba class. I loved the South American music and it looked like SO much fun. But I could never try THAT, I don’t know how to dance AT ALL, it looked so HARD!
But this time around, I decided I was going to try. Maybe zumba could help inject more joy and vitality into my miserable afternoons? It would be embarrassing. Possibly painfully so, I imagined. I would be the fattest women in the room. I don’t know any of the movements. I would look like a clumsy, overweight fool. But, I decided, no matter how embarrassed I felt, I would force myself to stay and participate for at least 5 minutes.
As I entered the first class, I did feel really embarrassed. As I had expected, most of the women zumba-ing were much thinner than me.
But then I saw her. A woman wearing a green bandanna who weighed at least 100 pounds more than me. And she didn’t seem to be embarrassed. In fact, she seemed to be having fun.
And I also felt embarrassed that I didn’t know any of the moves. I even bumped into the woman next to me several times since when we were supposed to be moving left, I was moving right, and the other way around.
But then I noticed an elderly woman in a stiff sheitl standing in the back row. All she did was shuffle back and forth the entire class. And she also didn’t seem to be embarrassed. She also, actually, seemed to be enjoying herself.
And I ended up staying for the whole zumba class (as I have several times since), and felt profound gratitude to these women–the overweight woman and the great-grandmother.
Since by being imperfect, they allowed me to be imperfect too.
Which reminded of something I experienced many years ago. Josh and I were invited to friends for a Shabbat meal, and the house, despite the many young children residing there, was clean and tidy as always. Except for the children’s room, which, I noticed, was unusually messy.
Pointing to the room, my friend explained, “Anytime a woman walks into another woman’s home, she compares that other woman’s house with her own. So I always leave a messy corner to make the other mother feel comfortable. It is,” she declared with a smile, “my corner of chesed.”
I thought of my friend’s corner of chesed when this past Shabbat we visited the home of a couple with several small children, including year-old twins. When I walked in, the house was remarkably messy.
“A few years ago we decided,” the husband explained to us, “that we would rather spend time with our children than cleaning up after them all the time.”
The interesting thing was that today an old friend who moved back to America stopped by with his daughters for dinner. I thought they would be arriving later, so when they arrived, the house was flying, the living room full, from wall-to-wall, with Yaakov’s newest “palace” of pillows, blankets, chairs, and various whatnot.
My first instinct was to ignore my guests and frantically run around cleaning up.
But then I remembered the messy house this past Shabbat. And I just left the palace in place and sat down and schmoozed with Josh and our guests.
And I realized, as I enjoyed myself, that it had happened again.
The family with the messy house had allowed me to be imperfect too.
Which, I have started to believe, is one of the greatest gifts one human being can possibly grant another.