Chana’s Corner: The New, Improvable Me

Chana’s Corner: The New, Improvable Me

Chana Shapiro

Chana Shapiro is an educator, writer, editor and illustrator whose work has appeared in journals, newspapers and magazines. She is a regular contributor to the AJT.

By Chana Shapiro |

I’m sure that I will never skydive or try race-car driving. Nothing in the world could get me to wrestle alligators, broncos or sumo guys (although my hefty body build might earn me a senior-citizen-discount apprenticeship). Don’t look for me when the bulls run in Pamplona or the congregants in a Texas church bring out the fanged reptiles.

Forget about training me as a war photographer or trapeze artist. I used to have a certain fondness for live fowl (we owned chickens when I was a kid), but I learned about someone who got killed by a goose.

Chana Shapiro
Chana Shapiro

My mantra: better safe than sorry.

Therefore, it may surprise you that, upon reaching the age of retirement, I decided to no longer pussyfoot around the exciting challenges of life. Wonderful opportunities of self-discovery and ego-building are out there, and I decided to do daring new things, grab life by the horns and take advantage of scary activities other people claim to enjoy.

I started last summer when I joined our grandchildren at an outdoor carnival that had terrifying rides. The sky-high Ferris wheel was too much (I read about one that got stuck and imprisoned an elderly couple at the apex for 18 hours), and the mere sight of the upside-down-loop roller coaster elevated my blood pressure.

I decided to try the whirly-gig, with a protective grandchild seated on each side of me. I didn’t think I’d live. Of course, based on my screams of terror, no one was surprised that upon release, I beat a mad dash for the portable latrine. This anti-wimp attempt was not a success.

My next act of bravery was agreeing to explore an untended, overgrown, rustic trail, again with protective grandchildren nearby. We had sturdy shoes, brimmed hats, bottled water, healthful snacks, sunscreen and insect repellant, and everything was going fine until we started seeing hand-painted signs warning us about poison ivy, snakes, eroding path-edged riverbank and “Watch Your Dog.”

I like to think of myself as an adaptable kind of person, but I wasn’t ready to leap over a snake, only to land in a dollop of dog droppings. I also noticed that the repellant wasn’t as effective as I’d hoped, and the kids and I had become nutrition for a nation of tiny flies. We raced back and grabbed the Benadryl in the sanctuary of my car. Another attempt at self-enrichment was dashed.

I gave up on activities that could maim, kill or permanently traumatize me and tried things that were merely very hard to do (but still character-building). These included maintaining a positive attitude while climbing Stone Mountain; holding a tarantula (live or dead, same freak-out reaction); speaking Spanish to a Dominican foreign student; purging my closet of clothes that will never fit me again; and entering our house’s crawl space to see what the smell was coming from.

I failed at all of these.

I had to give myself a last-ditch opportunity to be adventurous, so I lowered my standards another rung. Now the challenge would not even have to be character-building; it would just have to be hard. And so when my friend Judi persuaded me to try a Zumba class, I agreed.

For the last several decades I have consistently avoided activities that have three attributes: special clothing; music whose lyrics I don’t understand; and athletic, spunky women. So you see why the idea of participating in a program that involved all three was problematic.

Deep down inside, I knew it was now or never. I bought exercise shoes, learned to endure Iggy Azalea and her ilk, and, most important in my “New Me” journey, I remain resolute among a group of high-energy, fit females who like to sweat.

It hasn’t been easy, but I know that Zumba is just the first step toward the day when I will kayak in rapids, rappel off the side of a steep cliff and maybe even touch a tarantula.

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