Today I shared a lane at the pool next to the blind woman who is a regular at the city gym. She swims straighter than I do. Like the faithful regulars I see in the water aerobics class, she is an inspiration to me. Some of them have had strokes or have crippled limbs. Some are just old, very old. The thought of these stalwart strivers gets me up and out of my bed in the morning.
Usually, while I swim my laps, I ponder. I marvel at the blue of the sky outside the windows or the miracle of how bone, tendon, muscle and skin come together to glide me like a fish through the water. In the nineteen-fifties, I learned to swim in a “whites only” city pool. I swim now and ponder the question of how we could ever have thought it was right to segregate the races.
The city gym is on the edge of the projects, but downtown, a short five minutes from my house if I catch the lights right. It is frequented by folks from the hood, college students, professors and other people who live or work downtown- people of many races and cultures.
Recently, I shared a brief conversation with an elderly gentleman who has cerebral palsy. He always insists on opening the door to the building for me if he’s nearby, although it causes him to get stuck in a paroxysm of tremors. He laughs it off and tells me that before he did water aerobics, he spent years hardly able to get around and, “Now look at me,” he says.
Upstairs, working out in the weight room, there is an elegant lady, perfectly coiffed and manicured and colorful in her spandex. She could be Michelle Obama’s older sister, and she has Michelle’s arms. We chat briefly. Then, I watch as she feels for her white cane and gropes her way from one weight station to another. I realize that like the woman in the pool, she can’t see at all. I wonder if I could be as brave without all my working parts, and fear one day I’ll find out.
Last week, I finished a twenty-four lap set and paused to talk with an older married couple taking a break in the adjacent lane. As we treaded water, I learned she’d had cancer surgery, and the previous day she’d had her last radiation treatment. Their only son, a physician, died in his sleep last year at forty-three, the age of my son. Despite their losses, they exuded a youthful spirit, guarded optimism and an obvious affection for one another.
When I’m tempted to rant and rage or slide into a downward spiral of negativity, it’s often the thought of these heroes that puts me back on a positive track. To live in community is a gift.
By Fran Cardwell