Waxing physically and philosically...

After literally years of deliberation, and as a result of some delicate and some less delicate prodding, this blog is my effort to organize - to bring together - my thoughts about my work as a conductor and as a personal trainer, to rant and rave as necessary, to celebrate the little things and the larger moments of brilliance, and to share some conductive magic and life lessons gained through 'waxing physically and philosophically'.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

On getting caught with my guard down ...

The week before last week I went to a funeral, and have remained somewhat overwrought since. It wasn't the first I've been to as a conductor and certainly won't be the last; perhaps because it is the end of the year and I'm a bit tired or perhaps because lately many of my clients have been really struggling with the series of curveballs that we call life or perhaps because I was just caught with my guard down, but I'm still thinking about it and am sad.

Dave was one of my boxers, someone who had been with me since I started Counterpunch Parkinsons, someone who had chosen the fighter nameThe Greatestin tribute to Mohammed Ali.  Dave -- The Greatest -- loved boxing with us so much that even at the end, when whatever the evil process that was rapidly stealing his mind from him made him confused and unable to communicate effectively, even at the end he would mumble something about boxing or shake his already shaking fist in response to any question I asked of him, even totally out of context, outside of our boxing classes.   

Though he had been very unwell, with a rapidly encroaching and all-encompassing dementia and several falls and pneumonias, and getting worse over recent months, his death was sudden and unexpected.  He was discharged from hospital to the rest home he had recently moved in to on Wednesday.  I went to visit him on Thursday to find that he had died in the night.  The funeral was also sudden, due to religious reasons, it took place the next day.  I cleared my plate to get there and was glad I did – I was given a role in the ceremony, a role usually reserved for a close family member.  It was humbling and a reminder that it is as much an honour and privilege to be welcomed into the inner circle that surrounds a family at times of sadness and loss as it is to stand beside my clients in life. 

David was not an easy person to work with – even before things got the way they were at the end – he was difficult, and angry, and short tempered, and sarcastic.  He got very confused and anxious and a bit aggressive.  But he was also funny – very funny, and a bit nutty, and a lot dedicated -- even when it would have been very challenging for him to come he kept coming and trying.  It broke my heart to see him confusedly trying to put his hand into the closed end of his boxing gloves or looking at me lost and bewildered when he could no longer make sense of my most simple instructions.  And here is the thing – difficult or not, I love all of the people I work with and probably love the difficult ones even more, perhaps because of the extra effort needed to extend compassion in such instances. 

We saluted Dave at the beginning of our boxing class the week after the funeral.  Our boxers, our coaches and coach trainees and volunteers all in a big circle, arms around each other as NZ’s toughest heavyweight boxer lead us through a Maori prayer and song, a moment of silence, and then directed us to the boxing bags for 100 of our best punches to kick off the class with a spirit that Dave would have loved and as our way to give Parkinson’s the finger on his behalf, and then we worked hard and played harder during the rest of the class because that is what this community is about.  When life gives you Parkinson’s, Counterpunch.

I am a conductor.  I come from a discipline where love is recognized as a teaching tool.  And like regular love, conductive love comes with a risk of hurt and loss – there is no way around that, it is part of what it means to be human and to work with people in this way.  It always makes me reflect on my work, my practice, and my relationships, and even when I’m heartbroken I go back in – I choose this work and to love this way despite the risks.

I am a conductor, but also a coach – the head coach – and in that role I must teach the other coaches I train how to work effectively with our boxers.  I am purposeful in how I teach about the role of the group or about the importance of fun and motivation.  And I cannot help but teach about love because it is in my approach – obvious, out there, heart on my sleeve, a part of the way that I work.  I don’t know if I do enough to prepare my coaches for the heartache that comes with working through love, and I don’t know if I could or even should.  I teach my boxers to put their guard up – a boxing term for protecting yourself.  I teach my coaches to let their guards down, and I hope and pray that I am building a community that will nurture and support people who choose to work this way.