This past week I had the privilege of being in a full-day workshop that the Jewish Home Family sponsored. We brought in a man named Alex Kerten, author of the book “Goodbye Parkinson’s, Hello Life.” Alex has been working with individuals with Parkinson’s disease for more than 30 years and he shared both his powerful tools and unique perspectives with us. The audience primarily comprised individuals with Parkinson’s and their care partners. Alex had everyone in the audience engaged, teaching them techniques from breathing to using rhythm that helped many to move in ways they had not for many years. It was a powerful day and one that I feel certain had a lasting impact on those in the room. (Email [email protected] to receive the full video free.)
One of the things that Alex said, over and over, was that the way we move, the way we see and present ourselves, the way we interact, is our individual and personal “act.” And within our act we have choices to make about how we define ourselves and how we live our lives. He told us that “we all have Parkinson’s,” meaning that we all have our own set of challenges, and that we can define the role we are to play in our own life story.
We often talk about the “mind-body” connection and we certainly recognize that the two are inextricably linked; our mental state impacts our physical and vice versa. Yet Alex took it a step further, pushing the concept that, even in the face of chronic and debilitating disease, there are still choices we can make. He was not saying that we can think ourselves out of a condition that we have, but more that we can redefine ourselves and how we approach that condition.
He taught the participants how to walk differently, shifting weight from one foot to the other and feeling the rhythm of it. He taught them to stop trying to control tremors but rather to “own them,” moving to the music and the beat that individuals can embrace and incorporate into every aspect of their daily lives. But underlying, and overarching, it all was the concept that this is our “act,” and we can choose our roles as actors.
It was a concept that resonated with many of us in the room and also one that has much broader implications. Are we to be defined by our disease or disability or are we to define ourselves? Are we to allow ourselves to be crippled by the emotional pain that life inevitably brings us? Do we let our stresses and worries control our days and nights or do we find a way to reframe, retool and retell our stories?
There are many things in life that are beyond our control. Yet our stories, the plays of our lives, are ours alone to control. If we decided, with purpose and commitment, to act our roles in the way we choose, to follow a script we write, to choose a supporting cast that meets our unique needs and desires, how different might our lives be?
By Carol Silver Elliott
Carol Silver Elliott is president and CEO of The Jewish Home Family, which runs New Jersey’s Jewish Home at Rockleigh, Jewish Home Assisted Living, Jewish Home Foundation and Jewish Home at Home. She joined The Jewish Home Family in 2014. Previously, she served as president and CEO of Cedar Village Retirement Community in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is a member of the boards of LeadingAge and the Association of Jewish Aging Services.