I work out and take classes at a local YMCA, which guarantees a wide mix of ages and income levels. A life-long jock, a veteran of boarding school and summer camp, I’m used to being around other people in various stages of undress.
But it’s the naked emotion that often surprises me there, not the glimpses of others’ flesh.
I learn a lot in the locker room and often leave it in a very different mood than when I arrived:
— the mentally disabled children who come to swim, bound up in splints and diapers, laughing and playing with their caregivers
— a diabetic woman my age who needed the EMTs after going into sugar shock
— the woman who casually announced it was her 83d birthday the next day, the one whose vigor and tart wit made me sure she was 20 years younger
— the scars of surgery
— what a woman’s body really looks like in old age
I value the very few places in American culture where little children and people in their 80s or 90s mingle freely, sharing space and ideas. One is church, the other is the Y. I don’t have children or nieces or nephews and lost both my grandmothers when I was 18, so I hunger for cross-generational contact.
A few weeks ago I was worn out, weary of holding it together. A conversation that began in the locker room after swim class with the 83-year-old was, suddenly, the most honest and helpful I’d had with anyone in months…Then we kept talking in the parking lot, even after I burst into embarrassed tears. Her unexpected advice was blunt but kind.
I’m used to being visible physically, not emotionally, a common theme in my life. I tend to keep feelings bottled up, not wanting to burden friends or family who have, of course, their own challenges as well.
I know you change in the locker room. I didn’t know it might be more than your clothes.