Okay, first of all this is not a blog about my senior years. Let's just get that out of the way.
A couple months ago, I decided to boost my daily exercise by walking the Lazy River at the local community pool. Almost every morning, at least for the first few weeks, I threw my bathing suit and towel into a bag, got into my car and drove down the mountain for at least an hour of walking in water.
It didn't take long to figure out that I was the youngest person there. But being eligible for the senior membership made me feel a little uneasy. Senior? Come on!
I had to get a new bathing suit, since I outgrew the ones I wore last... like, a decade ago. It was slim pickings at Walmart, being out of season and all. But I found something that would do. I really didn't care what I looked like in it. That is, until I was standing there in the locker room wearing it, in front of a full-length mirror. The horror! When did I turn into a fat old lady??
I ignored the reflection and headed off to the indoor aquatics room. I loved it there, full of natural light, swimming lanes, slides and a kiddie pool area, a huge hot tub, and the Lazy River. Mornings were quiet, only a handful of old people walking and swimming the Lazy River, or sitting in the hot tub. Old classic rock played on the speaker. It wasn't too bad, actually. Not exactly my style of music, but reminded me of what it felt like to be a kid. And that's what I felt like in that pool - like a kid.
My pink ponytail got noticed right away by the reaction of either giggles or looks of disapproval. But, after a while, a few people started to lighten up. I was just so happy to be there, I smiled at everyone. I even said "good morning" to anyone who made eye contact with me. A few of the ladies made small talk as they got close to me, walking next to me or past me. But I couldn't help feeling like I was in the pool with my parents.
I even started giving them secret nicknames, like Mark Twain and Ron White - two of the regulars. (Seriously, that's what they looked like, and if they ever read this blog, they'll recognize themselves.) I watched a sweet couple, husband and wife, who taught me a little something about long-term relationships, which this generation was clearly all about.
It was like stepping back in time for an hour each morning, watching how they interacted with one another and with me. How they spoke, how they moved slower. They weren't cranky old people. They were just a generation older than me. They came from a different time where they fixed things that were broken, instead of throwing them away. I'm sure the speed of technology and devices, even cars and household appliances, were sometimes too much for them to grasp. They liked things the way they were. They were comfortable that way. Faster and newer doesn't always mean better.
After they started warming up to me, some of them opened up about their lives. Like the lady with the guardian angel tattoo on her shoulder. She struck up a conversation with me after she complimented my dragonfly tattoo. She had breast cancer years ago, and got her tattoo after she survived it. Each little star around the guardian angel represented each year she had been cancer-free since that time. After awhile, her daughter (who was probably my age) took over the star tattoos on her shoulders.
Or the man who was proud of his work as a bounty hunter. He was even a character in a movie about it. He invited me to the Elks Lodge. Not a place I'd ever go, but still a sweet person.
They lit up when they had someone new to talk to, especially one much younger. Their eyes sparkled, like this one lady who always wore a mask. She never said anything, but her eyes smiled as they met mine during her calculated laps.
The ones who made the biggest impact on me were a husband and wife. She always got to the pool early, usually met up with a girlfriend, and they swam the Lazy River together, chatting the whole time. Her husband always came in later, dressed in his street clothes, carrying a bag. He didn't look really old, but it was clear that he had some type of mental illness, like the early signs of dementia. Every time, he'd stand at the edge of the pool, waiting for his wife to make her way around so he could stop her. And every time she would say to him "you can't come into the pool dressed like that. Go into the locker room and change into your bathing suit." She would continue with her swim and he would wander around, still lost. A second time around she would tell him to put his bag over by her chair. She again continued with her swim, and he would slowly walk over to her chair, making conversation with the lifeguard along the way. He had style, like you could tell he was hot when he was young. She probably was too. What a beautiful young couple they must have been. I wondered, what were their dreams on their wedding day for their future? Did they have kids? Did they travel?
She would eventually get out of the pool, grab her beach towel and wrap it around her, and sit on her chair. He sat on the chair next to her. She would reach over and hold his hand. He would look at her and smile. What I loved so much about them was, they didn't throw each other away when life got hard, because clearly mental illness makes life harder. She helped him, but didn't fix him. She told him what to do, and it was up to him to do it. And sometimes he would wander back out to the front desk and talk to the girls who worked there. He was a pleasant man, and she was in love with him for most of her life. In the end, they'd always find each other, either at the pool or at the front desk.
The point is, they showed me what it was like to make a commitment to another person. I thought it was beautiful. It even brought a tear to my eye more than once. All of the people I met at the pool had these things in common - their word meant everything; they made promises and kept them; they knew how to appreciate life.
Being around these old people for a couple months made me feel younger. Not because they were old and I wasn't. But because, inside they were still young. We are all young. It's just our bodies that age. Spending time with them helped me get out of the mindset that my body was supposed to look a certain way, or move quicker. It may never look that way again, and I may never be able to move as quick as I once did. Accepting that isn't easy for me. But watching the old people at the pool changed everything for me. I, in turn, slowed down. I watched how I interacted with those around me. I was much more tolerate with those who are closest to me. Because life can change on a dime, and tomorrow I may not be here. Each day is memorable to me, even when my car breaks down, or I don't like what someone said, or my art isn't selling fast enough, or whatever. None of it matters. None of it.
My advise to all of you - go swimming with old people. Do it. NOW. They have so much to share, these valuable incredible people. I'm forever grateful for the couple of months at the pool with all of them.
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As usual, I have a big idea.
My vision for this quaint little art-town includes revitalizing what's already here, and expanding upon it. What better place on earth to promote the arts, than in the small historic mining town of Jerome, Arizona.
There are some serious gems here on the mountain, including a theater room and old auditorium, located at the Historic Jerome High School, which is also where my photo studio and art classroom are located.
I'm psyched about being a part of the formation of a theatre group here in Jerome, maybe take a stab at acting and singing. What I see happening is a wide array of local talent, showcasing musical performances, plays, dance, poetry readings, you name it.
I was recently interviewed by the Wicked City Chronicles. Check it out!
I am running for Jerome Town Council, as the "Artist Councilperson".
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