It’s probably the nicest pool I have ever seen in my life.
It’s the half-sized pool, 25 meters long, but so wide it’s almost square. Three walls of the room are floor to ceiling windows, and there are skylights overhead, piercing the knotty pine ceiling, flooding the room with natural light. When you speak, the sounds bounce around a bit, sounding unnatural and flat.
There is another pool in the room – a square heated pool they call the therapeutic pool, but they assure me that if no one is using it for a group, I’m welcome to use it, too. When I walked through this morning, it was in use by two women who appear to be around 80, talking in low tones while using foam dumbbells to exercise.
My focus this year, the year after my Dad’s death, has been on my health. My dad was only 21 years older than I am, and while his death from a virus says nothing about my own life expectancy, it does make one begin to count. I’ve been eating better, and logging my food. I exercise nearly every day. I prioritize getting enough sleep.
And this week, I joined a gym with a pool, because my joints are trash after years of abusing them.
This morning, I put on my trunks (which fit me perfectly 50 pounds ago, but are now relying more than they should on the drawstring to defend my modesty) and slid into a warm pool, and commenced to do laps – quiet, slow, trudging laps – the equivalent of walking as opposed to the running the speedo-clad twenty-something guy in the next lane is doing.
I can only really backstroke with any degree of proficiency, so I am watching the ceiling, following along under a wooden beam that spans the length of the room, keeping all the moving parts going the way I was taught all those years ago on Parris Island: Hands up along the sides to the armpits, then out, then down, hands cupped. My shoulder grates a bit, unused to this particular motion.
And in the aisle next to me is a Black woman somewhere in her late 70’s, with the foam dumbbells, raising them and lowering them in the water, all the while moving down the length of the shallow end of the lane sideways, back and forth. A woman I assume to be her granddaughter cheered her on, saying, “Good job, Granny! I’m so proud of you!”
I knew I was not moving quickly, but I have to admit I did notice when Granny passed me. Several times.
And I did think, briefly, that it is a crying shame that my swimming ability is so slow that an 80-year-old woman can walk sideways faster than I can swim. But as I swam, back and forth, slowly, like an impressionistic portrait of the athlete I used to be, I couldn’t help but think how awesome it is that she is doing the work, and how great it is that her granddaughter is spending time with her, and how much I wish I could spend that sort of time with the people who loved me into being.
And then I spent some time in what my Buddhist friends call an act of Loving-kindness, where I just took Granny and her family and focused on them and wished them every good thing.
I’ve never been good at competition. I almost died as a kid, and often in the years after it was an accomplishment that I showed up. I learned long ago that whatever motivation I have to have to get through my day is going to have to come from my own motives, and not what you think of me.
And can we be honest with each other a minute and admit to ourselves and to each other just how hard the last two years have been? There has been so much put on us that we had to just survive, so any thought of winning or not seems so secondary right now. If we just show up, that feels like winning to me right now.
Wherever you are in this whole thing, I’m rooting for you. I want us all to win.
So good job, Granny. I’m proud of you, too. And while you might get there before me, I’m glad you’re ahead of me, to show me the way.