Jul 13, 2018
You know you’ve crossed some mystical threshold in aging or illness the moment that water aerobics begins to look, well . . . appealing. I confess, I crossed that threshold about a year ago.
Living with MS for some years now, swimming is one of the only exercises left to me and my body. Borrowing the spiritual linguistics of St. Francis, who referred to his body as “Brother Ass,” I sometimes refer to mine as “Sister Ass.” A few times a week, I drag myself and Sister to the local Y, endure the stark humiliation of wrangling Sister into a bathing suit, and, reassuring her that it will all be over soon, lower Sister into the pool. Oh, but for a few lovely, cool moments, we almost feel strong again. Pulling her through the water, stroke after stroke – the buoyancy of more than a few extra pounds no doubt helps keep Sister afloat – but for those minutes in the water, I have a sense of agility, strength, coordination, control. It brings Sister and me so much joy.
I am frequently there with my pool-buddies – the little old ladies doing water aerobics to terrible, early rock-n-roll tunes in the next pool over. And then there’s my favorite, “Stanley.” Stanley’s spine is more crooked than a crooked question mark. It bears the mean scars of countless surgeries that did little to ease his condition over the course of his life. I watch in private awe as this humble creature lowers himself into the water, turns over onto his back, and ever-so-slowly flutters his hands and kicks his legs, patiently making his way back and forth across the length of the pool – lap after protracted lap. I sense in Stanley that same inkling I have, a feeling of buoyancy that eases the pain and the wearying weight of constant illness, if only for a moment. And when he’s finished, I take note as Stanley hoists himself up the ladder to his walker and makes his way to the locker room, the pain of his condition clearly having returned in full.
And though for now, I am faster and stronger and more able than Stanley, I can imagine a time when I may not be, and I pray for the graces that Stanley seems to so easily possess: acceptance, perseverance, and not the slightest iota of self-pity.
“Brother ass,” St. Francis’s well-known moniker for his body, was always making demands for sleep, for food, for shelter, but even Francis admitted at the end of his life that he might have been a little too hard on his body after all.