A Total Paragon?

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Many days I find little inspiration in the daily word prompt.  On occasion I have even had to give myself a symbolic dope slap for allowing resentment to creep into my struggling thought process when the word doesn’t turn me into an instant Hemingway or Emily Dickinson.  (There have also been a few days lately when the prompt didn’t show up at 8 AM, which it is SUPPOSED TO, but that is probably a post for another day!)  So imagine my happy surprise when today there are two words that I can use!

Generally when a word doesn’t immediately provoke a line of thought, or has numerous meanings, I go on-line and look at definitions to help light up enough brain cells so I can actually start writing.  I had a pretty good idea about what “paragon” means.  The first image that popped into my mind, however, was Paragon Park, a wonderland of rides, cotton candy, fried foods and carnival games that used to exist at Nantasket Beach.  I got to go there a few times with my husband, who spent many summers at the beach as a youngster, and regaled me with verbal images that sounded a lot like Peter Pan describing Neverland.  But by the time I got there it had become somewhat seedy and eventually fell to economic struggles and the influx of year-round condos and upscale establishments.  It was definitely no longer a paragon of a park.

As for “total,” anyone who has spent more than 15 minutes in the company of several teenagers is totally familiar with that word, and probably wishes to never hear it spoken again. I can only wish it had totally gone the way of Paragon Park, totally.

Let’s return to definitions of paragon:  Dictionary.com provided me with several options:

  1.  a model or pattern of excellence or of a particular excellence: a paragon of virtue.
  2.  someone of exceptional merit;
  3.  printing:  a 20-point type

The first two definitions were familiar.  While I consider myself a generally good person, smart enough to satisfactorily travel through life’s complexities, I honestly don’t think I rise to the level of excellence most of the time.  Even if I did, my upbringing would come back to haunt me if I were brazen enough to sing my own praises to that lofty degree. Trying to apply concepts of excellence, merit and virtue to anything going on in the world these days would be a struggle that I just don’t feel up to at the moment.  And writing about printing type would bore me to tears.

But wait, there’s another definition:    4.  an unusually large, round pearl.

Okay, now we’re talking.  I’m large and round!!  And I think I can accommodate my self-image enough to let in the image of a pearl. Not flashy like gold and silver bling, but elegant enough for special occasions.  Something precious that grows inside a not-so-attractive shell.   I can live with that.

Smart and Fashionable?

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It took me a couple of weeks to gather up the courage to participate in my first Silver Sneakers swimming pool exercise program. “Silver Sneakers” is a program provided by insurance companies that entitles senior citizens to go to classes at the numerous participating health clubs free of charge and without the necessity of joining that particular club. Some would say that this is evidence of kindness and generosity on the part of insurance companies.  I, however, think it is a great conspiracy to slash another excuse for not exercising off my list.

In any event, while recovering from a ruptured disc and the resultant nerve and strength problems in my right knee, I had gone to this health club pool during free periods and walked back and forth, doing a few gentle stretches to benefit my knee and back.  After I began to feel somewhat better and was able to walk less like Lurch and more like a dignified, although slightly lame, older woman, I convinced myself that driving 25 miles round trip to the nearest pool wasn’t a good idea because it increased my carbon footprint too much and I could put my footprints in the path around the field or on the street.  Of course, that would involve actually going outside and, you know, it’s been raining a lot and the black flies and ticks are waiting and the ground is uneven, which is really bad for someone with hip, back and knee problems.  (Anyone who thinks I may run out of excuses anytime soon does not know me well!)

In a moment of facing the truth about a week ago, I checked out the pool exercise classes at the club and made a pact with myself that today, June 6th at 9AM, I would be in that pool come hell or high water (pun intended).  And I was!!!

lake-constance-1937136_640My advance fears and expectations were typical of someone who has struggled all these years with weight and body image.  I knew for sure the following:

  • I would be the fattest person there.
  • I would be the most out of shape.
  • I would be the only weirdo who keeps her glasses on in the pool because she doesn’t like to squint and bump into people.
  • My bathing suit would be the least attractive and definitely not fashionable.
  • I would embarrass myself by leaving after 10 minutes.

I arrived in the pool early.  There were already at least 20 women chatting away in various groupings like old friends.  Many of them smiled or said hello to me as they maneuvered their way toward people they already knew. Not knowing anyone, I used the time to check out some of my fears and advance assumptions.

  • I was not the fattest person there.  There were people of all sizes and shapes, and it didn’t seem to matter where I fall on that useless judgmental scale.
  • I wasn’t the most out of shape.  It’s hard to determine where on that useless judgmental scale I fall, either.
  • For a while I was the only weirdo with glasses on, but nobody put themselves in danger of drowning by falling down in hysterics over it.  Then another person descended the steps with her glasses on, and then another, and another.  Four weirdos in one place means we are no longer weirdos!
  • There were all kinds of bathing suits, most of them more or less like mine.

I was feeling pretty confident. More people joined the group, until there were about 30 of us. As each one entered the pool I wondered if she were the instructor.

Then a clearly out-of-place woman entered the pool area.  She was YOUNG, TALL, and BUFF!  Her black exercise pants were painted on her long, lithe legs and skinny little butt.  Surely, I thought to myself, she is just passing through.  But no, you guessed it, that was the instructor.  She plugged in her music and started yelling:  “Jog, move to the right, move to the left, jog, turn right, turn right, turn right, move forward, move back, march, turn left, turn left, turn left, jog, jog, jog.”

beach-1295588_640The lady next to me sidled over, introduced herself and asked if I was new to the group. She told me she comes regularly and she really likes the instructor.  We exchanged a few words about arthritis, which is sort of like the weather as a conversation starter for me now. Looking around at the pool full of senior citizens, I realized that few of us were doing the same moves as that manic young person standing above us yelling like a Drill Sargent on steroids.  Many were talking to each other and just halfheartedly moving more or less in time to the music.  But moving!!

I wasn’t embarrassed, didn’t feel fat, ugly, or out of shape.  Yes, I know that according to some judgment scales I may be.  But you know what?  Being natty, cool or fashionable is not so important any more.  What is?  Being nice, friendly, and tolerant of my own and other people’s shortcomings.  Gathering the courage to step out of my comfort zone and realizing that most people are doing the same.  Noticing when someone is alone and smiling and saying hello in welcome.

A few women left after 20 minutes.  I made it to 35, and plan to go back on Thursday.