Hogging the middle lane

Hogging the middle lane

Uncommonly uncoordinated, I have immense admiration for the women upstairs at the gym who contort themselves in unimaginable stretches, as I meekly press forward on machines. I’m racing against time with uncooperative muscles that won’t get me on a train I could miss.

Lately, I’ve developed a curious habit of trying to guess how old these athletic apprentices are. One woman who looks like she could easily join the Rockettes or at least pass the entrance exam, told me she was 25. Ah, to be 25 again. But even when I was 25 and joined the tennis crowd high in the sky in New York, I mostly distinguished myself by missing more balls spit out by that wretched machine than the rest of the class.  (Years before, I’d purposely knocked the balls over the fence at camp so I could giggle with Regina as we “hunted” for them.  Regina had a sturdy backhand, which required little practice, so goofing off didn’t weaken her form; I had no form to weaken but could make the class chortle with my silliness.)

Back to the agile women upstairs I see wiping their faces with soaked towels…. they really work at their work outs! One woman, who could have been born a week after my 25 year old mega star, looked like a pre-Olympic gymnast. Again, I politely asked how old she was, while anticipating the decades that separated us. No, she wasn’t 25 or even 35, she was 45: the mother of three, and a devoted visitor to the gym for one hour daily.   Her accent was foreign, as was her yen to make her muscles grow and ache. Maybe her kids took turns doing the laundry and cooked all the meals while she collapsed on the living room couch.

The other day at the Mauna Kea hotel– where I  like to stroll the halls with my diluted mango blueberry smoothie, and admire the art, and then pay my respects to the 13th century Buddha — I caught up with my favorite Hawaiian quilter and the surgeon who gave up fixing bodies in his 70’s to dedicate himself to water colors. Both artists are in their 80’s and as rigorous as the women working out at the gym. Maybe, if and when I become an octogenarian, my words will pour out as smoothly as their colors merge. Maybe, I’m still too young to produce the work I so admire in others.

But then I think of Meg Wolitzer and Elinor Lipman who are touching the clouds with words I devour. And they were both born in the 1950’s too.  Meg barely squeezed into the final days of the decade, while Elinor entered the ranks almost as soon as the decade began. So I toil on with aging muscles –far from the quilter and painter who race forward in the fast lane. Truly, I’m smack in the middle, on the older side, and still a student in every way. Hogging the middle lane.

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