friday i entered the studio to teach my last class after a long, stressful week. my two-day vacation {first one in some time} was about to begin in 65 minutes; i glided in giddy, only one more hour, and it was teaching one of my favorite classes: a classical pilates, level 2, with all of my regulars, and many other fellow instructors.

in an instant, the glee turned into gloom when my studio advisor told me i’d be having a new student in class:

mike, a gentleman in his 60’s, had broken his neck. he was wheelchair bound and had never taken a pilates class. he was coming to take mine.

my skin began to clam, my stomach knotted, and my heart raced.

NO!!! i snarled. you can’t let him. it’s too dangerous! he needs to do a yoga therapeutics, or a pilates private. you can’t let him take my class!

she was concerned too, but much more composed and lovely than my shade of ugly. apparently, mike was not going to take no for an answer. he was coming to take pilates come hell or highwater.

i. was. terrified.

i didn’t want him to get hurt. i was worried about liability. i didn’t want him to feel uncomfortable with a room of advanced students. i didn’t want him to feel unsuccessful or discouraged. he hadn’t even shown up, and already i had spun myself into a dreidel of nerves and defenses.

rather than admit my fear, i acted like a bratty child, not getting her way.

i stomped around dramatically, eyes wide on the lookout, hoping to intercept him, and kindly discourage him from coming in.

class began. no mike. i was so relieved. he had changed his mind.

then i heard the clankety clank of an elevator {we have an elevator in this building???}, and realized he was late because our zig-zag, aztec-shaped building: hard enough to traverse even on two, healthy legs, is close to impossible to ascend in a wheelchair.

mike made it. his injury is no joke. from the tips of his toes, to the tops of his ears he is severely affected.

he cannot walk.

but he did get himself on his mat, and from there MY lesson began.

i conducted class like i normally do:

planks, push ups, crisscross, scissors, leg lifts, the gamut. i had two advanced instructors taking class so it wasn’t like i could do an hour of diaphragmatic breathing.

mike worked at every exercise i called out. many looked agonizing. because of his injury  some weren’t workable; 99% of the participants can’t do every exercise though. i don’t give special attention, nor did he need any. this man’s focus and determination could win simultaneous chess and wrestling matches. he heard every word i said. every right, left, lift, lower, breathe in, out. my cues, modifications, corrections had to be laser sharp, clear, and simple.

my body was fine from the demonstration, my brain was fried within the first 15 minutes.

after class, when everyone had left the room and mike was getting himself back into his chair i introduced myself and thanked him for coming. i was moved and emotional. in less than an hour i had undeniably changed roles from that of teacher to student. i was embarrassed by my earlier resistant and ignorant behavior to ban mike from class. rather than projectile vomit my insecurities all over the place {my propensity when faced with those who rock my world}, i just let mike talk.

he explained his injury and informed me it was his third time EVER out of his wheelchair. he was visiting from hawaii, and his wife is afraid to let him do things that involve leaving his chair. he said “but, katie!!, sometimes you just got to live life.” and living life last friday meant taking my class no matter what.

no matter how wretched the stair, ramp, elevator system is in our building, regardless of the instructor’s provincial and birdbrained attitude about having someone new or different in her class; living life meant not letting a physical body impede a mental and emotional resolve.

one of us walked into that room handicapped. his name wasn’t mike.