Headed to the gym this morning, I stood on the corner and felt the deep warmth of the sun on my shoulders, a feeling that had been gone for days, was likely to be gone again, soon, for a while. It was no time to go inside. The park seemed a far better option, so I turned on my heel and headed away from the weight machines toward trees and water.
For a Monday morning, I felt pretty centered. It was others in my household who had stressful days ahead of them, and I had to be the rock, the supporter. I was happy to play the role. Sometimes playing something makes that who you are. You can't really be good in a role unless you are being true. That is what makes acting so hard. I had a conversation about this with a woman, a local store owner, who is an actress but hadn't acted in years, never, she said, as an older woman.
"I didn't know how to play an older woman, I feel 20," she said.
I laughed. "I think you always feel 20 or younger, maybe 12, and that's why those actors who play old people who act like what they think old people are like, what we all expect them to be like, are so bad, so not real. You have no choice but to be who you are..."
She nodded, not wholly convinced. Maybe there was some universal bit of being older she hadn't captured, but I can't imagine what if she was playing a real-life older woman, if she was capturing what she herself felt.
As I walked into the park, I ran into a woman I met years ago, when both our older boys were just toddlers. We see each other occasionally, say hi in passing. Today, no kids in tow, a little more time on our hands, we stopped, remarking on the beauty of the day, the necessity of getting into the park before it was too late. She had been on a light jog, she said, and was just recovering.
"What are you up to these days?" I asked trepidatiously. It's actually none of my business.
She thought for a second, then answered. "My younger one is in school now, three days a week, so...I'm starting to get some time back. I'm starting with the physical..."
It was mom shorthand, speaking about what you "start" with when your youngest heads to school, how you'll begin to get back to yourself, to who you are outside of being so-and-so's Mom. I nodded in acknowledgment, in very personal understanding.
"I know exactly...That was me a couple of years ago, when my youngest started school and I quit my job. That's where I started too. All of a sudden I realized that excercise, at our age, is no longer optional."
"I know," she said,"it's not like you're in pain from having done anything..."
I nodded. "I know, I'm in pain if I've done nothing, I feel great if I've done something, I can actually get out of bed without creakiness. It's why I do something, go to the gym, walk, yoga, almost every day now. And," I added, pointing to my head, "this seems to follow."
She nodded. This seemed a perfect time to pull out a gold star. She thanked me and, as she placed it on herself, she looked up. "I don't know how it's going to work, but I'm trying..."
I laughed. "That's what the gold star is for, just for trying."
We parted then, each to our separate efforts. I went on into the park, into the deepest recesses of the wooded paths, where I love to wander. I would say "to get lost" but I so rarely loose sight of where I am anymore, I've traversed these paths so many times.
Telling someone recently about my joy in moving through these urban woods, sometimes running around the log-lined herky jerky trails like an obstacle course, I was met with sheer panic.
"What? Do you go there in the afternoon?" a man I know from the neighborhood asked.
"Yes...why?" I said, knowing likely what he would say. I know the fears that abound about anyone, but especially a woman, alone in the woods. I made a friend not long ago based almost solely on her hilarious response to the idea of jogging.
"Jogging?" she said, bugging out her eyes, nodding her head in a vehement non-verbal no. "When I think of jogging, I picture the evening news, where whenever they talk about a jogger they next pan to a shoe in the woods...I'm not ever jogging."
That image is almost always with me when I jog in the woods, I laugh about it. But I have recently decided to do it anyway. I don't watch the news. I don't see the lone shoe left behind. I don't, actually, think it happens often, which is why it makes it to the news. If it were common, like car accidents, it would become routine. It wouldn't make good TV, now would it? Anyway, as told my would-be protector, the benefits I get feeling totally immersed in nature right here in Brooklyn far outweighs the risks.
I felt a bit like my mom, always a fearful flyer, getting boldly, spitefully on a plane after 9-11 as a "take that!" to would-be terrorists. I would not be cowed as I had been for so long. It was part of the new less fearful me, the next stage after the physical strength for me, the stage I felt was necessary to set an example for my kids, to help them be courageous.
As I walked around the paths, I saw mostly other women, like me, trying to find a bit of peace. I did come upon a young couple, clothed, the girl straddling the boy, both of them laughing as I passed.
"Rape!" he yelped, joking, after I was beyond them. I laughed quietly, to myself. I didn't turn around though I was tempted, to go back and give them gold stars, just for being young and impetuous, for not being the rapists I was warned against. But I thought better of it. I went about my business, the business of my own life, and I left them to theirs.