I have been attending and participating in a cardiac rehab exercise program for the past fifteen months. I attend twice a week and spend an hour each time doing rather vigorous exercise under the watchful eyes of those in charge of the program. Even though I was only originally approved to the program for one year I have continued on my own past the mandatory time.
All of my fellow sufferers in the program have had, as I have had, a cardiac incident. Most of them are already senior citizens – though I hazard to say that I somehow am the most senior of all of the seniors – but there are a few much younger people present who unfortunately suffered a cardiac incident at a relatively young age.
The group is composed of a mix of Israeli Jerusalem society – charedi, religious, secular and indeterminate. We all get along very well, courteously sharing time and turns on the various exercise machines and being friendly, but not intrusively so, one to another. The fact that all of us realize how much at risk each one of us is undoubtedly contributes to this atmosphere of camaraderie and politeness.
The usual rough edges of our societal behavior are not present in the exercise room. It is serious business there and there is no time or space for the everyday pettiness and foibles that so color our relationships with others in our usual everyday lives. Though it would be an exaggeration on my part to say that I enjoy attending cardiac rehab twice a week, I do admit to myself that aside from the physical and health benefits of the program there are important ancillary benefits to me as well.
Firstly, the hour of exercise allows me an hour that I cannot do anything else. As a workaholic Type A person, I was terribly frustrated during the first months of the program. I was constantly thinking of what else I could be doing during that hour - and of all those tasks that I was now not doing, which became so important and pressing.
But now more than a year later I use the hour on the bicycle, the treadmill, the ski machine, the hands-only bicycle, to think about plans and about myself. Especially in this month of Elul, an hour’s worth of introspection is worth a great deal.
Maimonides posits that before one speaks publicly one must think about what one is about to say three or four times before actually speaking. And he says that when writing and publishing one’s thoughts and opinions, one should review them a thousand times before disseminating them!
Well, I cannot claim to have fulfilled those requirements in a literal and exact fashion, but the hour in the cardiac rehab exercise room does afford me the necessary time to at least think seriously about issues that I will discuss publicly sometime in the future. And that is a great benefit to me and I hope to you, the reader of this column.
But another benefit of the cardiac rehab exercise program is that it proved to me once again the omnipresent possibilities of resilience and rehabilitation and self-improvement. Somehow the arteries and heart muscle upon which our very existence depends can be strengthened, even repaired by our own efforts and exertion. I am told that a significant number of those who enroll in the program unfortunately do not complete their year of rehabilitation for various reasons. It is too boring, too demanding of time and schedule, the results are never immediately visible and it is not very enjoyable.
All of these excuses are valid but not nearly as valid as is the necessity to stay with the program and rebuild one’s cardiac functions to the extent that one can do so. This lesson of resilience, of repairing and healing is not confined to cardiac rehabilitation. It is the message of Torah and Jewish tradition regarding all areas of our lives – our social behavior, our charitable giving, our practices of observance and our direct relationship to our Creator.
The prophet Yechezkel promises us that the Lord will yet remove from us our current heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh. So to speak, that will be the cardiac rehabilitation program of the ultimate redemption of the Jewish people. But that cardiac rehab will also require our participation – our faith and diligence, our self-discipline and exertion, our willingness to discard the heart of stone in order to acquire the gift of a heart of flesh. May the good new year bring us strong and healthy hearts.