Let Yourself Be Known

“ If you want to be seen for who you are, you have to be willing to stop pretending to be someone cooler or smarter than you are.… You have to understand and accept yourself enough that you believe you can make somebody else’s life brighter just by being in it.“ Donald Miller, author of “Scary Close: Dropping the act and finding true intimacy.“

[Emma Pattee wrote this in a recent article on How to Have Closer Friendships. Check out Emma on Twitter @emmalincolnblog or on her website at http://www.emmapattee.com ]

I think women are pretty good at being friends, when we give each other the chance. Or the right environment, like women’s gym locker rooms. I have had many intimate, personal, uplifting conversations with women whose last names I’ll never know (but whose true hair color I DO know), women I call my Locker Room Ladies. True supporters who “make somebody else’s life brighter just by” speaking up.

My Albany Locker Room Ladies supported each other at the Making Strides Against Cancer Walk each year (Pancho and Django also wore pink for the occasion).

BTW, don’t Google Locker Room Ladies. There is, apparently, a more sinister, manly interpretation of the term I use with great affection.

We didn’t always support each other in the locker room. My memoir includes this mortifying scene from my first year in junior high:

 The ten-girl squad was assigned to lockers in the same aisle, four of us on my side of the wooden bench and six on the other. I pulled my out uniform and the combination lock Mom had gotten at Woolworth’s and shoved my book bag into the narrow locker. Eyes down and balancing my back against the grey metal, I stepped into the legs of the gym suit, rocking on one foot as I yanked it up my hips under the roomy skirt. I turned toward the locker as I pressed closed the two bottom snaps. I pulled my skirt down and kicked it into the locker.

That baggy turtleneck in my school picture later the same day. Sad series of events.

The second bell rang, and I knew Miss Benton would be blowing her whistle in moments. I turned toward my locker, crossed my arms over my chest and pulled at the cotton shoulders of my turtleneck. I’d gotten it about halfway off when I realized I’d left my glasses on. As I groped for them in the dark folds, I heard a couple of stragglers laughing. “Hey, nice undershirt.”

They continued to laugh as they ran up the stairs to the gym. My face was on fire as I pulled the shirt off my head and shoved it into the locker. I pulled on the rest of the uniform, snapped it shut over my stupid undershirt, and ran up the stairs.

We are can be awful to each other, girls and women. But here’s a conversation I was in today in the wonderfully intimate environment of the women’s sauna.

When I walked in, there were two women sitting on the far bench. I took the empty bench closer to the door. The younger woman was saying something about a “Promise Ring.” As she spoke, it became clear that she was speaking about a decision she had made three years ago when she turned 18 to “save herself for marriage.” Her mother had given her a ring that signified that committment, and her priest had come to her birthday party.

Talk about heavy pressure. Things could have gone either way, I think.

But, no. This was a good thing. Now 21, she has had a boyfriend for almost three years, and she made it clear going into the relationship that sex was out. She was very relaxed about it.

The woman she is speaking with is older, maybe 40. She says that it is wonderful for young women to know they are valued, that they have value. She says that this is why she is now going to nursing school, to be in a position to help young women.

That’s my cue. I’m all about crediting nurses with having supported me throughout my illness and recovery. I tell the woman that she’ll make a great nurse, and how much I have appreciated nurses over the past 10 months. Here some of the crew in Amsterdam that kept me going.

And one reason that I got to know the Amsterdam staff so well — okay, beside being there sooooo long — was that I extended myself every day, looking for connections with the nursing staff.. Often, it was just getting a first name, admiring it, and then asking if they were named after someone in their family. There was almost always a story: one nurse had a Russian-sounding name because her parents had spotted the name rolling by on movie credits and decided that would be their baby’s name. And another nurse was named Rosanna not because of any Italian reference but because of the Toto song. I knew things about these people that their own friends on staff had never thought to ask.

Believe that you can make somebody else’s life brighter just by being in it. Speak up!

Water Keeps Saving My Life

I took a water exercise class today, the first since the one I taught in Boynton Beach some nine months ago. I came out of the pool 4,000 steps richer, with two rings closed on my Apple watch, a new friend, AND a connection to a potential new vascular surgeon when I’m discharged from Shands.

That’s the power of water.

When I my arterial aneurysm ruptured in Amsterdam on May 5, I’d been teaching water fitness for a decade. I made it out of the OLVG Hospital ICU due in large measure to my strength going in. Although ICU-Induced Weakness sapped that strength along with and more than a quarter of my weight by the time I graduated from the ICU to the Gastroenterology Unit, my muscle memory and years of exercise routine were on my side. It was a slow slog nonetheless — ain’t nothin’ easy about physical therapy — but my amazing nurses and physiotherapists had me standing and even walking by the time we flew home.

There was no pool at OLVG, and I longed to be supported by water. I visualized floating as I endeavored to relax in my hospital bed, finding the trigger that is challenging to land on when you’ve been lying there forever. Water worked.

When we returned home in August, I was using a walker and a cane. My therapy at FYZICAL focussed on my lower half, and I made progress. By the end of August, I began working on my core and arms and legs — and floating for real — in our community pool. As my upper body strength returned, I started swimming, eventually lifting my arms out of the water in a pretty good freestyle. My goal was to sail up Victoria’s three flights of stairs when I had my update at Shands on November 8.

Which I did. No walker. No cane. Just me.

In the water, I could walk, then jog, then run. I could shovel heaps of waves. I could box. I knew that every movement I did caused me to burn 150% of the calories the same movement would take on land, due to water’s resistance, but that I’d be supported by bouyancy. Water is win, win.

About a month ago, my husband and I joined a gym. It was a home-coming of sorts — we met at the New York Health and Racquet Club on Manhattan’s Upper East Side 40+ years ago and we have been gym members for most of our married life. We got out of that habit when I taught classes in Boynton Beach most days.

Another silver lining — my illness and recuperation has reconnected both of us to getting healthy. We’re now LA Fitness members.

I decided that Christmas Eve was a perfect time to return to a water exercise class. I knew there was one at 9 on Tuesdays, though there was no music and teacher didn’t thrill me; I’d swum a few times during class (there is a free lane) and felt no pull to return to teaching or to be bossy about how the teacher was doing her job. Good.

So, surprise surprise when today’s class was taught by a sub with music and the same training and teaching approach that I received through the Aquatic Exercise Association. Great class. Oh, and her husband is a vascular surgeon, so she knows how unusual — miraculous, really — it is for me to have recovered as I have.

So, on this eve of a miracle birth, I am once again reminded to be grateful. To have, as my writer colleague Karen Coody Cooper wrote in today’s Palm Beach Post, not an excess of food or drink or debt but an abundance of friendships and love and kindness and contemplation.

To experience Christmas as a holy day. And water as a holy sacrament.

Merry Christmas Eve, everyone.