Three days a week, I drag myself to the gym. I go there because I want to weigh less, live longer, and because they watch my kid as part of the membership fee. I like going there, even though I’ll never be naturally athletic.
In my classes, I see the same people week after week. I’m on nodding-smiling terms with most of them. I notice things about these people I see so regularly. I love the middle aged male twins who sit on bikes on opposite ends of the room from each other. A lady who reminds me so much of someone I knew casually in Florida always bops her head along to the music. There’s a woman who is in almost every class I go to. She’s a mother, too, as I see her picking up her kids when I collect mine. She’s in perfect shape. She baffles me: In spin class, she never seems to break a sweat, while I’m close to cardiac arrest. I’m amazed by the amount of weight she lifts in Pump. While I’m putting weights that look like 50 cent coins on my bar, she’s hoisting on a couple of charger plates. There are others equally as fit, and plenty more across the range of “average,” like me. There are some well dressed in Lululemon, and some slumming in KMart clothes (me). I’ve been with these people who I don’t actually know for awhile now. I notice things – about them and about myself.
After class, we all shuffle off to pick up our children, get back to work, or whatever it is that people who can be at the gym at 9:30 on a weekday morning do with themselves.
I usually wander into the women’s dressing room to splash some water on my reddened face. Many weekdays, like today, it is full of much older women getting changed after an aqua aerobics class. I’d place their age range from 65 to 80ish. They are clad in draped towels or in various stages of undress between swimsuit and dry clothes, and I get a quick picture of where all of our bodies are heading in the future – softer, more wrinkles, less angles. I can see the inevitability, as the aging process hasn’t escaped any of these women. I always listen in a little to their conversations for the couple of minutes I share with them. They compare ailments and medications. “Well, that’s just how it goes,” is the phrase that ends most of these conversations, signalling that there’s no point in discussing it further, and there are more interesting things to talk about … like what they served at the dinner party last week or whose daughter recently married, and whether we approve of the beau. They also talk a lot about the other women in the class – why wasn’t Jan here this week? Has anyone spoken to Carole? Is Rosamund’s trip going well? How is Judith feeling after her surgery?
The aqua aerobics ladies always go up to the cafe for coffee after class, and they are certain to spread the invitation around, encouraging everyone in the group to stay for the drinks and companionship. Though I’ve been crossing paths, mostly unnoticed, with these women for nearly two years now, it was just today that something occurred to me about the aqua aerobic ladies, and that is that they are amazing.
Every one of these women has reached a place in their lives beyond what I have lived. I don’t know their stories, but I think it’s safe to bet that some have buried life partners, some have even buried children. They’ve fought diseases and some probably live with chronic pain. They’ve had careers, they’ve traveled, they’ve made good and bad decisions, and lived with those to this very day. On this day, they chose to come to aqua aerobics class where they leave the pool feeling powerful. And then they use that power for good – the good of reaching out to other people, of encouraging mental and physical health and sustaining a community, of refusing to hide a few round, wrinkly spots because, ladies, we are all in this thing together. Maybe they have always been like this, or maybe it has taken them so many years to get to this place, but what I saw today was women taking care with and of each other. They weren’t casting eyes around to see who lifts the most or has the freshest outfit, but simply making sure there were enough seats at the table.
I feel good after my gym classes, but if I’m honest, I could be stronger. Their kind of power is the type that I’d really like to wield.