Thursday, December 4

no hands

My last week in Israel, I was privileged to take a riding lesson from Uri Peleg, a nationally renowned horseman and promoter of natural horsemanship techniques. It changed my life.

But first, we have to go back a few years...ok, more than a few...


I took my first riding lesson when I was about nine. If you are not familiar with English style horsemanship, imagine black velvet helmets, tall black boots, and plenty of snobbery to go around (my apologies to the English, I'm sure their intentions were pure). Unfortunately, I showed up wearing western boots. I should have read the signs.

I sincerely appreciate my training in English riding for the attention to detail and meticulous care for equipment and horse, but managing my reins would prove to be a lifelong frustration.

Lacking in the area of upper extremities, keeping my reins at the correct length to accurately communicate with my horse was nearly impossible. If it was exhausting for me, I can only imagine the irritation of my ride. But knowing only to work harder to achieve what I wanted in life, I persevered...until I quit several years later, believing I wasn't good enough.

So, when friend and fellow riding instructor, Nomi showed me a video of her friend Uri riding and working cattle without any reigns at all, I was mesmerized. The rusty gears started to turn.


--------------------

Sitting astride an appaloosa called Winter at Uri's Ramot Ranch, nothing was working. Winter was not responding in the way I wished to anything I'd been taught to do on a horse. It was like finding yourself behind the steering wheel of a car, but having lost everything you knew about driving.

Thankfully Uri didn't laugh, but started to teach me a new riding language. This new language uses various gentle but specific leg cues to move forward, back, and turn to the left or the right--reins used as a last resort. It is astonishingly simple, and logical in that you ask the horse to move as guided by your legs and body position. The difficulty was getting off the worn path in my brain of using rein language. I literally had to hold onto the saddle horn to keep my hand from moving.

But as I started down the rocky new path of communicating in the natural horse tongue, I felt a slow but steady wave of liberation. Every time Winter responded immediately and exactly as I'd requested, weights of old frustration fell away.

We stopped at the top of a green plateau and looked down over the entire Sea of Galilee. If you've ever felt your life changing in the very moment it does, you know the excitement.

On the way down, I held my grateful hand up over my head, palm waving.

Look, no hands! I smiled to Uri. He smiled back.

I should have fisted it in victory.

OneArmGirl

Saturday, November 22

beauty

"You're so brave, Tashoo," Noam tells me when she sees small children at the resort swimming pool staring and pointing.

I tell her my secret is to not look away, to stare back, and maybe give them a wave with Finneas.

"That way they can't make me the strange one," I say.

Noam says she would like to kick them into the deep end.

But there are larger implications when skimpily-clad, slim young women saunter about everywhere you look in this holiday hot spot.

Every photo I take of Noam and show to her, she wrinkles her nose and says, "Ugly. I'm so fluffy."

"You can't change how everyone sees you, you can only decide to be OK with yourself," I say.

I watch a woman, or girl, walking toward the water, her long perfect back growing out of her symmetrical hips straight up to meet her relaxed, carefree shoulders. I'm so jealous.

I never had a back like that. At her age, scoliosis was already crippling my genetically shortened torso. Regardless how carefree my now thirty-something, emboldened spirit might be, my spine will never reflect it.

Yet, I'm angry with Noam's self-criticism and her doubts about finding a man who will appreciate her body. It leaves no room for her wise-beyond-her-years grounding and easy-going, light-hearted nature. When she says, "I love you, Tashoo," it means more to me than most because her sincerity is palpable.


Neta is Noam's mom. I like the way she drives her truck over the rocky volcanic Golan farmland, one arm resting on the door, the other, with several leather bracelets, casually guiding the wheel. She lets her hair hang long, parted in the middle, like I imagine she has done for a long time. Her work-tough boots move up and down on the pedal.

Her shoulders are broad and strong, but she walks easily without any evidence of stress. Her soft voice and easy laughter exude a natural calm. She brings peace into a room.

I am struck by her beauty. This is the kind of woman I want to be.

One of the brave.

OneArmGirl       

Monday, November 17

the old country

Hello. I'm writing to you from the Golan Heights in Israel, where the world began, more or less.

I have been here in Israel for nearly a week. The jet lag is mostly gone, but after a long day of ranching yesterday, followed by an after dark trek to local hot springs on the Israeli/Syrian border (complete with Jurassic Park style fence), I'm feeling a bit tuckered out.

I'm eating as much humus as I can tolerate; holding as much Hebrew as I can keep in my head; and generally loving the temperate climate--though my hair is still adjusting.

Tomorrow we head to the south, to the beach.

More to come...

OneArmGirl 

Friday, November 7

places

It's showtime! AirDance New Mexico presents Other Worlds tonight at 8pm.

Ok, that's my shameless plug. If you are weary of art featuring me and other company members, in white amidst a flowing red fabric, it will all be over soon. Well, until I pull them from my stock photo file for future posts.

In other news, I am going to Israel. Yes, I'm nearly as surprised by this news as you are. My dear friend Nomi, who is also a therapeutic riding instructor, lives with her family and horses in the land where everything began. I wanted to go to Israel one day, but as usually happens, that day came sooner than I figured.

I hope to post here while I am away, but it may be a little spotty as I search for time and wifi. Please hang in there. I need you. I really do.

Love.

OneArmGirl
   

Tuesday, October 28

plates

I've had a considerable number of plates in the air as of late, and that does not include the ransacked kitchen left in the wake of Little Gen's determined cupboard cockroach hunt.

There's just so much going on between the end of the riding season, increased dance rehearsals, and watching for the mail carrier to deliver $600 worth of brasiers for Little Gen's disability.

Lost you? See this early post.

Fittingly, I was in the middle of changing into rehearsal gear when the package did arrive, and answered the door in nothing but a dance leotard. After the embarrassment subsided, I felt cool, like the kind of person who does art for a living.

"When I think of grace, I think of you," my friend Michelle once said. Obviously she hasn't seen me lately.

Though it does seem that I've always had, or earnestly practiced, a certain grace in moving through the world. When I was eight, my ballet teacher told me I was a natural. I maintain I decided to be graceful rather than have my smallish arm blamed for clumsiness. Grace was my cover.

In college, I carried my cafeteria tray with the greatest of care. A mouse might run over my toes (and I happen to know of one such incident in said cafeteria), but so help me, my plate would never hit the ground.

Still, people generally assume that balance is not my forte. When I toured the weight room at a local YMCA, the trainer seemed overly concerned that I not lose my balance on the machines. I moved slowly and deliberately, trying to humor his fears that I might, at any given moment, topple over from a light breeze. Never mind the 30+ years I've had to develop an understanding of physical equilibrium. I decided not to mention that I'm an aerialist.

Truthfully, I probably have better balance than most. I know exactly what is required to hold a stack of china plates on my knee whilst opening a cupboard door. Balance is essential to my survival. I dare say, I am on the cusp of human evolution in weight distribution.  

So, the next time you see me, standing on a moving horse, holding a platter, atop which a glass ballerina performs pirouettes--do not fear, she's in good hands....err, hand.

In the meantime, I'll keep my eye on the plates.

OneArmGirl

Saturday, October 18

becoming


The fact that it is nearly 12am on Saturday morning, making this post already a day late, attests to my desperate attempt to catch up on a week that beat me to the finish line.

It's been a full one of excitement, sadness, challenge and liberation. But at this late hour, I will just leave you with the following from Kathleen Norris on the tension of being fully alive:

"Between these two poles, it seems to me, we seek to become complete: between shedding our self-consciousness and taking on a new awareness, between the awesome fears that shrink us and the capacity for love that enlarges us beyond measure, between the need for vigilance in the face of danger and the trust that allows us to sleep."

May we all continue to fight the good fight.

OneArmGirl

Friday, October 10

successful suffering

"You can't pity someone you're in awe of," a priest once said of the first resident in his home for AIDS patients.

I read this today in Kathleen Norris' Cloister Walk, which I am proud to say I am just two chapters from completing. It struck me as precisely the ingredient to successful suffering.

Successful suffering? Yes, I said it.

In the midst of typical lunch serving mayhem at the Friary yesterday, an older woman stopped to tell me how frustrated she was with her son when he was younger and seemingly unable to lead a productive life.

"I see people dealing with so much and working so hard," she confided, "and I'd think 'What's wrong with my son?'"

"I guess we all have our own journey," I considered aloud, remembering my own harsh lessons.

When I was younger, I refused to allow anyone to feel sorry for me, warring against pity with personal achievement grenades. It was never good enough for me to survive, I meant to conquer. Thus motivated, even self-pity rarely entered my fortress.

Unfortunately, this drive opened the door to an achievement addiction that I'm still trying to kick. But that's another story.

Managing two mugs and a pot of coffee for a table of presumably homeless people, one woman piped up "I'm so sorry about your arm."

"Really?," I said, "I'm not."

In case you missed it: a homeless woman was feeling pity for me.

The truth is, I don't mean to inspire awe, though it's a nice side effect. But there does seem something special about pain that can inspire greatness--greatness which, otherwise, might have remained undiscovered.

OneArmGirl