As many of you know, I have taken up water walking (um, aqua exercising?) to slow down the progression of my right hip toward a replacement. I exercise at Buckman pool, located in the basement of a fine old brick elementary school in our neighborhood.
Water walking is exactly what it sounds like, which is why I can’t claim aqua “exercising”. I just walk, or tread water, with a foam belt that keeps me upright, for 45 minutes, 3 days a week. I do so at 8 AM, which means I am not exactly awake and so the warm meditation of water immersion is just right. Jer drives me there, before coffee, which provides a serious commitment to get the whole thing over with. Then I walk home, stopping for coffee at the perfectly located King Harvest coffee shop.
Buckman Pool does not have an enticing exterior:
The school in which it is located is about 90 years old and it’s generally a charming space — big high windows, welcoming front lawns and entrance steps and columns — one of those grand public spaces they used to build.
The pool, on the other hand, is small and a bit tawdry. But I have come to love it.
It was “renovated,” a trifle, in 2006 or so, and because Buckman is an arts magnet school, mosaic murals decorate the walls of the pool proper.
The pool has only four lanes and the water is kept between 82 and 85 degrees; it is definitely not Olympic sized (takes 40 laps to equal a mile). But for the water walker these features are virtues. The pool’s characteristics eliminate most serious lap swimmers — no grading of lanes as fast, medium,or slow, too many turns to complete the mileage smoothly, and much too hot for the hard-working athlete. That means it’s pretty empty, particularly early in the morning.
The life guards are college students, accustomed to odd neighborhood exercisers, and totally unjudgmental. I find their presence charming. The showers can be adjusted in temperature, a feature not generally found in other public swimming pools, where the shower temps as well as the pool temps tend to be carefully controlled — at just a bit too cold for comfort.
I don’t swim because chlorine turns my hair to straw and the swimming kick makes the hip hurt. So I walk in the water at this tiny, old, slightly musty pool, with its spalling walls and cracked concrete floor.
This morning, as I wandered weightless up and down, I realized that this part of my life was, to use an unlikely metaphor, about “pro-rating.” I used to exercise toward a goal and regarded movement as forwarding a cause — getting faster at the ten-K, finishing the marathon, making it across the mighty Columbia without disgrace, or losing weight. And so when first I started the W.W. I parsed out my days — 30 minutes on Monday, 60 on Wednesday, interval training on Thursday, 45 minutes on Tuesday and Friday. Weekends off.
But gradually I realized that I don’t need or want to get faster — time will pass at the same speed regardless of whether I do sprints or move languidly. A little speed will do my heart and lungs some good, but there’s no point in pushing to regain my maidenly figure. I’m not going to win my age group in the triathlon; I’m not going anywhere at all. All I’m moving for is to keep the muscles and tendons alert to their duties of holding back the bone from grinding into the other bone.
And so, I thought, what a privilege to be able to go to a warm place, be greeted by a pleasant young thing, shower in hot showers, immerse oneself in 85 degree water, and meditate while moving one’s arms and feet for a half hour or so.
It’s wholly different from score keeping and goal-pushing. It seemed, as I meandered in my lane this morning, that I had recalibrated, moved to another phase. As we (those of us fortunate enough to have decent health care and middle class lives) live longer, we also have to learn to live differently. Our incomes aren’t going to rise; we will not become VP of sales or CEO of human resources; our times on the ten-K aren’t going to improve; we aren’t going to converse on Oprah or show at MOMA.
And so we pro-rate, figuring out how to smooth out the rest of our days — fewer goals to pursue, fewer hopes to entertain in the dark of the night, fewer ambitions to fling ourselves at. It’s enough, perhaps, to go to dinner with friends who are thoughtful and funny and dear; to spend a bit of chatter time with one’s beloved and busy daughter; to have an occasional exhibiting presence in our own little city; to be aided in various endeavors by one’s beloved grandchild; to spend 45 minutes of one’s morning, before coffee, moving one’s limbs meditatively about in the amniotic fluid of Buckman Pool.
Long may these tiny pleasures exist; may they be pro-rated over the next 20 years or so. It is a joy and a privilege to have access to this kind of amenity. It’s something my parents never had; I only hope we can keep the same possibilities for the later lives of our children and grandchildren. –June
The Coming Dark, 72 x 48, quilted textile, about 1997