Every Tuesday and Thursday this gaggle of girlfriends suits up and hits our local pool. No, they don’t wear bikinis or flaunt tattoos or pierced navels. They don’t need to. All of their valuable assets lie inside and they’ve been hard won over time. By my calculation when class is full, there are almost 1,000 years between them.
Some shuffle slowly wearing knee braces. Canes, crutches and walkers aid others. A few arrive with caregivers. Gracefully, if not painfully, they bear together the weight of many lifetimes: husbands come and gone, children raised, grandchildren born, surgeries too numerous to mention and heartaches aplenty. One by one, they enter the water and then, as if by magic, they become effortlessly floating mermaids!
I am awed by the transformation that occurs before my eyes as I do my own laps. I cannot help but stop and listen to their laughter or pause to see them synchronized in a delicate ballet of swaying arms. They giggle like schoolgirls when someone tells a clever joke. I catch snippets of recipes, the death of a friend, the struggle with a husband’s Alzheimer’s and lots of bubbly chatter about the grandkids. Their skin is wrinkled, their bodies shrunken and bent over but they are SO beautiful I cannot take my eyes off of them.
I have imagined each of them as young once. I can see the shy debutante, the tough tomboy, the loner, the femme fatale and the crowd pleaser among them. Under their white hair and thin skin, I see blondes, brunettes, redheads, lithe bodies, big-eyed smiles and voluptuous lips. Age is an illusion we take far, too much on face value.
I contend that as a society we are now more tolerant of African-Americans, Hispanics, homosexuals, white-collar criminals, and drug addicts than we are our elderly! It should be Politically Correct to revere them, not scam, mistreat, ignore or abuse them. They are the survivors and memory-keepers of a time gone by and they should be treasured—not honked at when they are too slow crossing the street.
Most of my mermaids are the same age as Lily Tomlin, 75, Jane Fonda, 77, and Gloria Steinem, 80; three women who figured prominently in my growing up years. Funny thing is, all three are forever etched in my mind as young. So, too, should we look upon our elders. As Edith Ann often said from her big, rocking chair on Laugh-In: “And that’s the truth!”