Yea, though I walk…

Like most of us, I will spend the eve of Yom HaAtzmaut, our celebration of the miracle of 70 years of independence, reflecting on the heroism and the sacrifice of those who gave their lives for our nation. As a martial arts therapist, particularly in my work as  Head Instructor for Kids Kicking Cancer-Israel, I have the honor of encountering and nurturing heroism all year long, not the heroism of those whose loss we mourn on Yom HaZikaron, but rather the heroism of those whose mettle is tested day-to-day by how they choose to live their lives.

For the 9-year-old boy sitting with his parents in the waiting room of the hospital where they have all spent far too much of his childhood, a spirited session of punching and kicking can restore his confidence and sense of control over his body.

For the preschooler with autism curled up on the floor, eyes clamped shut and hands over ears, soft music and colorful imagery might calm his embattled nervous system; encouragement to teach others the breathing techniques that help him ‘take control’ can give him a sense of mastery and purpose.

For the girl who comes to me sobbing after class because the boundary-setting exercise we did reminded her of the day a man grabbed her arm and tried to drag her away, a review of all the things she did “right” might help her rebuild her sense of self-efficacy. Practicing a striking technique and a powerful yell can help her imagine her story in an entirely new and powerful way.

At times, we all find ourselves in the Valley of Deep Shadows. That is the price of being Human. We do not write the story of our lives but we can change it from tragedy to triumph by how we choose to walk that valley.

Fear, pain, anger and frustration can blind us to the greatness of our response to adversity. Therapeutic Martial Arts help us discover and experience that Light, the Light embedded in the darkness of our struggles.

Experiencing the ways Ancient Warriors girded themselves for battle, can enable us to experience the Oneness of our body, mind and spirit.

Journeying along the roads of our imaginations, can help us part the curtains of our difficulties to reveal a universe of alternative paths. As I often say to teens on chemo and kids in the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit: “Your body may have to be here but you don’t; in your imagination, you can be anywhere at all.”

Joining together in ongoing groups enables us to step out of our day-to-day roles and into a place where we can freely share our fears and triumphs and muster our strength and lessons-learned to share with the world.

On Yom HaZikaron, like the vast majority of Israelis, I am deeply moved by the sacrifices made by those who gave their lives for our nation. And every day, I am humbled and inspired by the children and families who live their lives bravely despite — or maybe because of — the scars caused by chronic and life-threatening conditions: cancer, diabetes, pain syndromes, kidney disease, autism-spectrum disorders and other challenges. Scars are so much stronger than the brokenness they replace.

May the stories of our Remembrance Day Heroes remind us to savor the miracle of the present they made possible through their sacrifices. And may the day-by-day victories of Everyday Heroes inspire us all to narrow the gap between Who We Are and Who We Could Be, to rise again and again when we fall, and to find the courage to keep on walking through the lowest of valleys and the darkest of shadows.

About the Author
Jill Baker Shames, MSW has been teaching Empowerment Self-Defense for more than 25 years. She is a certified ESD Instructor and an Advanced Black Belt in Okinawan Karate. Through her work with students of all ages and segments of society, Jill helps others become the heroes of their own life stories by unleashing the mind-body power of hope, meaning and "standing tall" in their daily lives.