A Path

In the mornings, I read a short meditation from the Unity Church publication Daily Word, a habit acquired years ago from watching Mom do it, although like all practices that are good for me, pulling me into relationship with a more expansive view of my purpose on this earth, I am far from consistent.  Years have gone by when I’ve forgotten about the simplicity of beginning the day grounding myself in even such simple (some might say simplistic) affirmations as these few sentences.  I am always the better for any precious seconds I spend attending to my spiritual well-being. The challenge of being an incarnate soul is that the physical, time-bound world just demands so damn much attention. There’s laundry and traffic, politics and paperwork, and a million little decisions about what to eat or which route to take or whether we can afford this or that.  How can it be that we can feel such deep peace and love in our souls at times, yet live in a continual state of chaos, forgetting that bedrock foundation?

This morning’s Daily Word began “Today I consider the path that has brought me to this moment. Looking back at past situations, I now see that seemingly insurmountable obstacles held rich new opportunities to my Christ self to guide my every choice.”   As an aside, I should clarify the difference between my interpretation of “Christ self” and anything to do with Jesus, the man, or Jesus, God incarnate. Christ I understand here (shout out to theologian Richard Rohr, whose daily email meditations I also receive, and who has written much about Christ-as-energy this week) as non-denominational, not owned by any sect or religion and not exclusive to Jesus, a thirty-three year old carpenter from a little town in the Middle East.  Rather, it is shorthand for universal love, the dynamic, living energy that animates all existence and Big Banged us into eternally interconnected existence, bound to each other by our transcendent impulses: love, joy, creativity, compassion, generosity.  (Also: carbon and physics.) This conception of “Christ” is what arose within Buddha as he meditated under his Ficus reliogiosa. It’s the deep font of wisdom that informed great Jewish thinkers from Maimonedes to Elie Weisel. It’s the radical love and social progressivism embodied by Jesus, and the creative force that animated Michelangelo as he lay on his back, paint and sweat clouding his vision, forging the beauty of the Sistene Chapel. It’s that almost imperceptible breeze that sometime lifts a few hairs on your head and inexplicably opens your heart to something so rich and profoundly connective that tears spring to your eyes and you can hardly express why.  I don’t know how to square the power and beauty of this Christ Spirit with the depravity and corruption done in the name of the human being Jesus over the millenia, except to say that churches and religions are as imperfect as the humans who created and compose them, and it’s folly to suggest otherwise.


I don’t know if you’re still with me after that digression, but after reading the first sentence of this morning’s Daily Word, I closed my eyes to actually do the assignment, i.e. consider the path that has brought me to this moment: Two weeks away from my fifty-ninth birthday, newly sidelined by a single misstep last Monday. My world is reduced to my kitchen armchair, knees propped on a pillow with a bruise the size of a football on my thigh, awaiting MRI results that will unveil the truth of what’s actually happening inside my own body (I feel I should know with more certainty than I do), a tendon or perhaps two detached from my ischial tuberosity, floating somewhere under my ample thigh flesh, or perhaps (I hope), still attached, but frayed and tenuous, slamming me down into this suddenly sedentary existence.  As I considered the question, images of myself played across the screen of my mind: A montage of the past two years, essentially since the 2016 presidential election, spinning ever faster, like a broken clock:  from Nia classes to writing to building a business to strength training to dog walking, with frequent stops at my pantry door, where I scan the shelves for anything sufficiently crunchy to suppress the urgency that roils in me.

In an instant, it came to me: I’ve been running from my own broken heart.

It’s broken because I miss my kids, even as I thrill to see them go out into to the world and forge their lives, authentic, creative, brave, struggling, growing. But damn, it’s hard to go for months without seeing them in the flesh.  I just love ‘em so. I miss their laughter, their music, their amazing minds and big hearts.

Broken because I’ve been called on to do so much caretaking, with people dear to me experiencing grave health challenges with uncertain outcomes.

Broken from visiting people at McLean Hospital so often that the environment came to feel almost ho-hum. Yet the parade of suffering was always profoundly moving: the human condition at its most vulnerable­–wounded minds, fractured hearts, spirits at a loss.

Broken because I have been pulled back into childhood feelings of disempowerment and confusion, caretaking where distortions rule and everyone acts as if it’s all normal and good, and as long as you look attractive and are successful in worldly ways, we’re all okay, when in fact we are a big old (if well-intentioned) mess.

Broken because our parents are fragile, needing us to soothe their fears about losses and declines inevitable at their life stage, and truly, there’s little we can do except listen.  We lost John’s mom in November, and of course, more such passings lie ahead, whether in years or decades.  It’s a weird fact to sit with on a daily basis.  The unremitting anxiety of being 80-or-90-something-years-old for the person living it is wholly understandable and fitting, and yet, I feel guilty to admit:  it’s a buzzkill to be around.  (My parents would agree…)

Broken because marriages I admired have erupted into astonishing hostility, dissolving like sugar in boiling water.

Broken by the continual evidence of mankind’s capacity for corruption and arrogance, embodied in so many men that it takes my breath away: from Trump to Harvey Weinstein, R. Kelly, Larry Nassar, Bill Cosby.  Catholic priests abuse children, women and nuns; prep school teachers assault students; boys at parties, in frats or clubs, on teams, in dorms fail to understand (or worse yet, fail to comply) when they are being denied consent—if I listed them all, this post would be Nile-length and I’d have to update it hourly.  How can it be, with the overwhelming evidence of the capacity of men in power to abuse women, LGBTQ people of all genders, people of color, or any other disenfranchised group, that our culture continues to shame the people who call them on it?  Time and time again, “we” accept Man’s  “categorical denial,” buy into his sense of outrage at being accused of harms he may not or may not have intended, but caused nonetheless. Just this Friday, New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft, a Boston celebrity, “categorically denied” paying for sex when caught in a sex-trafficking sting where the police report videotape evidence of 200 men engaged in the sleaze, including Mr. Kraft.  The system works for these abusers every time we affirm their blustering demurrals without scrupulous, disinterested examination. Is it any wonder victims of sexual assault or gender-based harassment don’t feel safe coming forward?

Broken because so many people seem to admire bullying as strength, believe mendacity is justified (unless the other team is doing the lying), and think patriotism is a club to be used against fellow Americans.

Broken because people who are black and brown continue to be systemically oppressed in a country purporting to prize liberty and justice for all. Hate thrives where selfless love might heal.  We owe these people of color an apology, for crap’s sake. I’ll give mine right now: I apologize to you for all the ways in which I am insensitive, clueless, blind to my own prejudices or privilege, participate in systems that oppress you in ways large and small, feel threatened by what I don’t understand or even see about your culture or experiences, misinterpret, fear, misjudge, look away, overcompensate or in any way think/feel/behave/believe/that you are less than I am, or treat you that way.

Broken because people are struggling and poor, children go hungry, families can’t afford to visit the doctor, schools crumble…in these United States, the most affluent country in the free world. Watching certain media outlets, you’d think our problem is lazy, greedy teachers, and not the astonishing gap in power, access, and capital that has opened up over the last two decades between big money and everyone else.

Broken because people are estranged by technology, and our arrogance and self-absorption undermines the health of our planet (not to mention, our social fabric. I’ll put that on my list of future posts).  We separate ourselves from nature, as if our species somehow stands outside it­–one day we’ll all have microchips in our brains and bionic joints anyway, so who cares if we burn the house down, we humans seem to think.  Well, here’s the news heading heatedly our way:  we are not the boss of Mother Nature.

BROKEN because so much beauty and health, goodwill and transformation is possible, just beyond our grasp, if only we’d discipline ourselves to look for intergration versus separation, expansion versus contraction, love versus fear; to set the highest standards for our care of this world and all that is in it: flora, fauna, and human, seen and unseen, friends and enemies (as Jesus the man insisted, by the way).  These are all the reasons why my heart has been broken. In my steadfast yet blinkered optimism, I have been running away from the realization as fast as I can. Until Monday, when I pitched forward onto my left leg and my hamstring emphatically declared: JUST STOP RUNNING.

So this morning, with the Daily Word app open on my cellphone, my ass aching on an icepack, I felt the tears of all that broken-heartedness welling up inside me.

You know: It was a relief.

If anything, the sensation of grief renews my determination to choose positivity.  I have just this one life, for all I know, incarnate in a human body.  Every moment counts, every choice is a gift, every thought and word has consequences, and everything I imagine creates some kind of reality.  It takes vigilance to ride my feelings of rage, fear, loss, accepting that they are with me and legitimate, yet nonetheless: continually choosing faith and hope.

Step by halting step, that’s my path.

Magnetic Resonance

Array ArchitectsI know many people find the MRI machine claustrophobic, disturbingly loud, even panic inducing. But I kind of liked it in there. There was something comforting to me about sliding into the snug, white tube, like a little chocolate in a candy factory, toodling along the conveyor belt towards its foil wrapper.  I liked the aesthetic: the white molded surfaces, the slight dome to the oval shape.  There’s a pristine clarity to the space, as if the design team at Apple had a hand in it.  From the much-handled menu of in-house radio stations, its lamination cracked and peeling, I chose the “Spa” channel.  Who listens to electronica or dance beats in the MRI machine, I wondered.   Stephanie, the technician who performed my MRI, was solicitous, handing me the emergency button, a plastic bulb attached to a computer cable that brought to mind a turkey baster, and placing the heavy headphones around my ears.  She put an extra pillow under my knees, draped me with a blanket, and when I suggested wincingly that taping my toes together for a better view into my hip-joint was not going to feel so hot for me at this stage in my healing journey, she said kindly, “No problem, I’ll just put a note in your file for the doctor.”  Her tone was professionally reassuring, but also personal. I know she does this a bazillion times a day, but she made me feel cared for, and I was grateful.

In the belly of the great white beast, I listened to my Spa tunes–pan flutes, wind chimes, ocean waves–underscored by the not-so-distant droning of the equipment. I kind of blissed out, to tell you the truth, inhaling deeply in my borrowed medical scrub pants, shorn of earrings and necklace. After the initial burst of sound, I felt unflapped by the loud clanging and womp-womp-womping of the machinery. They should offer you a sachet with the essential oil of your choice; maybe I’ll mention that in the post-scan customer satisfaction that surely awaits me.  Every so often, a loud buzzer would sound, bringing to mind a basketball game at the end of the quarter.  Amazingly, I had a really nice meditation in there.  I felt flooded with gratitude for the people in my life and what they mean to me. I thought about trees and their generosity to mankind, uncomplainingly cleaning the air poisoned by humans and our misguided sense of dominion. I acknowledged for perhaps the first time since I fell on Monday how much I miss my trail walks with the dogs, being out in nature, their resplendent joy at the smells and fresh stream water. I decided that, what the heck, I’ll probably go on a Nia retreat to Panama next winter, if I can afford it, because my Mexico sojourns these past two years have brought me such gifts of joy, laughter, and renewal. I had a vision where I was a fantastical, dragon-sized bird, twirling and winging through the sky, translucent and yet multicolored, with lines of energy and light emanating from me and also radiating into me, unifying me with all life, reminding me that we are all One, and that everything is energy and love.  Sounds a little trippy, but there you have it.  Ibuprofen is the only drug I’ve taken in the last week, I promise.

“Okay, Holly, we’re all done,” Stephanie’s voice came through the headphones.  “I’m gonna get you out of there right away,” she said, her tone urgent, as if my leg were caught in a bear trap.

I felt a little disappointed.

“How are you doing,” she asked as I re-emerged from the cavity.  She lifted the heavy lead apron from my pelvis and removed my blanket and pillows. “Take your time,” she said, watching me warily as I wobbled up on my good right leg, painfully dangling my left foot above the floor while the hamstring cramp passed.

I told Stephanie I was fine. “I kinda think I had a spiritual experience in there,” I said, laughing. I wiped a little tear away from my cheek, embarrassed to have become so moved at the Shields MRI facility on Washington Street in Wellesley.

She smiled.  “Oh, you’re one of those.”

She walked beside me as I limped towards the door.  “Probably about a third of the people actually find it relaxing,” she said.

“Relaxing” isn’t the first word I’d choose to describe how I found it.  Certainly, I had a few instances of anxiety about what the images will show, and potential dire outcomes passed through my mind as I cocooned.  I had to work, initially, at resisting urges to go down the rabbit hole of catastrophe, focusing my attention on my breath and the sounds of the music, rather than my busy imagination.  It was noisy and odd and I can certainly think of better pastimes on a sunny Saturday morning.

And yet, it was resonant.


crutchesI’ve missed blogging.  The act of habitual immersion in the present—noticing the varied sounds of my footfalls in the snow, or the texture of a slice of cinnamon raisin toast with crusts slightly charred, but soft-centered, little bites of raisin squishing sweetly under my molars—such observances come more fluidly when I’m cultivating the discipline of dailiness.  I felt it when I was in Mexico a few weeks ago:  a tug back towards writing.  But I’m rusty. On the flight home, I filled page after page in my journal with dense verbiage, words meandering from my pen like jungle vines, without the sense of propulsion that comes with practice, the machete of my internal editor whacking a path to a place I hadn’t realized I was heading.

I arrived home from the trip aglow with delight at the time spent with my amazing, hilarious, wise Nia sisters, immersed in nature, movement and meditation, an entire week devoted to the present. So good.  Re-entry from our vacation selves always has its challenges, and mine was no different:  a ton of teaching my first two weeks back; several client calls and meetings (not to mention, the actual client work); catching up with my chronically ill brother, always stressful; helping John with some communications projects he’d asked me to look over; buying and shipping Valentine’s Day care packages; scanning all our tax documents.  Self-care proceeded straight to the back of the line.

And then came the bad news/good news gift of a pulled hamstring sustained Monday afternoon when my sticky-soled moccasin caught the fringe of an area rug and I catapulted onto my free leg, stuck and twanging like a javelin before flopping earthwards.  I was on the phone with Mia, laughing at her story about “accidentally applying” online for a summer internship, whilst also carrying a new roll of paper towel up to the kitchen to swab the dog’s bloody ear (it was that kind of day). Typical, I thought, as I writhed around on our basement floor.  I arrive home unscathed from an hour of slip-sliding on the trails, Yaktrax skimming across the sheer ice through a thin layer of new snowfall, only to shred my hamstring over a roll of frickin’ Bounty.  I dance at least 6 hours a week, lift two hours a week, walk dogs an hour every day, and it’s this utterly mundane moment that takes me down.

C’est la vie.

The bad news part is obvious:  I’m in pain, I’m grounded, even taking a pee is a contortionist’s challenge at the moment.  I’ll have to miss who knows how much teaching and will certainly lose conditioning, which as anyone over 50 knows, goes in a nanosecond and takes light years to rebuild.  Dancing is how I process my emotions as well as maintaining my fitness, so I’m not looking forward to several weeks of physical and psychological blobbifying on the couch like Jabba-the-Hut. I feel infantilized, calling to John from my new perch in our living room to refill my water bottle, or to help me put on my socks since I can’t reach my feet, or adjust the pillow under my knee because my left leg throbs and groans like an old sailing vessel at the slightest move.  I am fighting off an inner voice, honed through decades of don’t-worry-about-me-I’m-fine inner monologuing, that tells me “Don’t be such a pain in the ass” when I ask John to run back up to our bedroom on the third floor for my moisturizer or “not-those-glasses-the-pink-ones.”  Having him extricate me from the SUV at the doctor’s office Tuesday was a particular exercise in surrender.  The foot of my injured leg got caught in the seat belt like one of those Chinese finger-traps we used to get as birthday party favors in the 60’s—every time John pulled me backwards towards the street, the strap tightened around the ankle of my injured leg and I sobbed like a terrified six-year-old, my butt dangling over the pavement.  Marriages are made of such indelible memories as these.

As for the good news, I have plenty of time to write, obviously.  And to let others take care of me, which I have never excelled at, but I’m here to learn.  (On the couch.  In the living room.  Stop by.)  John got me lavender-scented Epsom salts—what an innovation!—and friends have offered meals, crutches, trashy magazines, and visits, all of which I am accepting with deep gratitude.  It feels really nice to allow oneself simply to receive the love and kindness of others, freely offered and cheerfully given. I have a renewed appreciation for the work I’ve put in this year with my personal trainer, Kathryn, as I enjoy my hard-won core and upper body strength: Triceps potty dips and car-roof pull-ups have already come in handy.  Friends and acquaintances immediately raised their hands to sub my classes or fill in for one of my volunteer shifts at the women’s exchange.  People are generous and kind.  One forgets that in these times of vitriol and constant “othering.”  I’m enjoying the view out our living room window, which I rarely have time for since I spend most of my time at home staring at monitors at my desk in the kitchen. The dogs are ecstatic about the twin mattress we pulled down from Mia’s room so I wouldn’t have to handle the stairs for now.  Monday night, they curled up next to me in deep delight, as if to say, “You mean we’re all sleeping on the floor…TOGETHER?  THIS IS SO RIGHT!”  The GP who evaluated me Tuesday afternoon not only pronounced that he doesn’t think I’ll need surgery, he also informed me that I am due for both a colonoscopy and a mammogram.  Who knows what oversight might have ensued were it not for that reminder?  I even have a new fondness for the humble kitchen tong, a lifesaver for plucking ice packs out of the freezer drawer or pulling a blanket up over my feet.

Now it’s Thursday and although I am hobbled and stir-crazy, I am also improving daily.  What a miracle the body is.  Google searches concur it takes about six weeks to rehabilitate a hamstring strain. That means it will be April when I’m back in form. I hope. Springtime. New life.









This Guy

Screen Shot 2018-08-02 at 5.59.14 PMHe’s my firstborn, my training child.  I used to joke they should give you a practice kid first so you could make all your mistakes and then give the kid back in exchange for your actual first child.  Then your firstborn wouldn’t have to suffer the ups and downs of your parental learning curve. But despite my new-mom nerves for, say, the first twenty years of his life, Nate has turned out to be a helluva guy—an amazing person, and someone from whom I’ve learned so much.

Nate’s birth was a pitched battle.  He was born exactly a week after his due date, August 2, 1992, 26 years ago today. He must’ve liked the accommodations in utero because he was in no particular hurry to leave.  Being 32 years old and invincible, I was determined to have a natural delivery, which meant powering through about 32 hours of labor and delivery armed only with breathing exercises and tennis balls for back pain.  The 1992 Olympics were on TV when we first got to the hospital, Jacki Joyner-Kersee had just won gold in the heptathlon for the second consecutive Olympics.  Sometime around midnight, I decided that my goal of natural delivery was unnecessarily ambitious, but things had progressed too far at that point for an epidural, so onwards.  At one point, the midwife had to reach inside and rearrange my cervix because the baby was entering the birth canal somewhat askew.  I thought, “just kill me now.”  I believe it was about 2:15 a.m. when I told the midwives they should immediately wheel me down the hall and give me a C-section because I was done with this process.  Nate, showing early the great persistence which is one of his hallmark qualities, has never been one to take the easy path – the midwives informed me we were “too close” for surgery, so we soldiered on together, he and I, me thinking I was pushing really hard, John coaching me to  relax (???)  or some other well-intended but useless advice.  A student nurse tiptoed in.  The midwife asked whether I minded if the girl observed as I flailed ineffectively at this whole birth thing. I was speechless, so the trainee stayed.  Finally, at about 2:45, with the baby’s heartrate showing signs of distress, the midwife leaned into my face like a marine drill sergeant and said “Okay, Holly, enough of this ditzing around.  I want you to push like your life depends on it.”  And at 3:07 a.m. on a dark, cool August morning, Nate emerged into the world, quiet, and peeing.  A nurse out at the maternity ward desk rang a little bell in the still morning to herald his arrival.

Nate was a lot to keep up with, for new parents.  He was headstrong and fearless: climbing to the uppermost branches of the hemlocks at age four; skiing off ledges into the abyss below with abandon all his life, terrifying his sisters when he drove them too fast to summer camp.  I cannot recall a time I’ve seen Nate back down from a challenge.  He may feel intimidated inside, but he goes for it, even when he shouldn’t, like that time he biked to the Cape when he had mono.  Or when he partied with a group of homeless people in Vermont because he was interviewing them for a college journalism class, a privileged Ivy Leaguer entering their milieu with a frisson of fear, but led on by a compulsion to understand.

Nate has always been astonishingly bright. His school years left a number of teachers  scratching their heads in an effort to challenge him, or contain him, or both. In our recent house-cleaning frenzy, I came across a high school essay of his—a snarky, darkly comic piece about being a competitive Mr. Potatohead assembler that he’d written to the prompt “write a mock college essay.”  Clearly, he took the word “mock” seriously. It was beautifully written and decidedly sarcastic. The teacher’s note at the end of the paper read, “I just don’t know what to say.”  I laughed out loud at her comment; being his mom, I often felt that way, a mixture of amusement, amazement, awe, affection and irritation.  He regularly astonishes his dad and me with his encyclopedic knowledge about everything, from catalytic converters to foreign politics to 90’s rap music. I don’t know if I have ever known someone with a deeper drive of innate curiosity, one who hungers more to learn. And he’s a born Devil’s advocate, loving nothing more than a good debate.  (Well, except maybe Annie.  And their cats.  And his family.  And rowing.)   He’ll argue one side flawlessly then flip to the opposing viewpoint, just to better understand.  And also, I expect, to get under your skin.  Just a little bit. Or sometimes a lot.

As he’s entered manhood, the perseverance and iconoclasm that drove parents and grandparents, teachers, coaches and carpool drivers crazy when he was younger have become assets for him. He’s grown into them.  He’s acquired an easy way with people, humorous and interested.  What I once thought was orneriness, I now see more clearly as profound sensitivity.  He CARES.

So do I, buckaroo.  Thanks for teaching me how to be a mom, for the great adventure of watching you unfold into your adult self, for being smart, and making me laugh and eating whatever I cooked with such enthusiasm.  Knowing you and watching you grow has brought me so much happiness.  Don’t ever blend in!  Love you heaps and hope you have a great birthday.

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Gratitude #30

Full Day

40744AA2-3A60-49B3-986C-BDEB75A82959Sometimes, there’s just too much living to do, and writing falls by the wayside.  There are moose on the roadside and mountains to hike, babbling brooks to admire and sore muscles to nurse.  Old friends you haven’t seen in ages invite you for drinks on their bucolic porch, and egg you on to feature them in your post.  (That’s for you, Richard and Neely!) By the time you pull out your cellphone to write (because your MacBook pro is at the Apple store getting repaired), you are just too played out to think straight. So instead of writing, you have a second beer at dinner and call it a good day.   Because it was.1320BF06-01CD-4580-86F6-6BC66D14444D

5EB8C1C5-4B61-463C-8A9D-592BFD79CD7Cgratitude #30

Chair Party

green wooden chair on white surface

At the end of Nia class this morning, I checked my phone for texts and saw this one from Mia: “I don’t suppose there’s any chance you’d sub an 11 o’clock yoga class for us, LOL.”  She has a summer internship at the YWCA of Cambridge, as part of a fellowship in not-for-profit leadership she received from the Forest Foundation.  She works there to support their programs providing housing, food, and programming for local women and girls.  Their yoga teacher cancelled last minute.

”Sure,” I texted back. I love that she thought to ask me.  I’ve been meaning to visit her work site, having heard much from her this summer about their great work meeting a huge range of women’s needs.  Plus, I’m already anticipating her departure back to college in California; too fast, too fast these summer days have flown by with her at home! So I don’t squander opportunities to be around her, or to show her I love her.

She met me at the reception desk, and we walked over to the women’s residence together. At first I thought they wanted me to teach Nia, but I saw the space and met a student, an older lady who told me she has difficulty feeling her feet and moving her hands.  Mia clarified:  this was to have been a chair yoga class.  Aaaah.  No problem:  this was a job for Ageless Grace Brain Fitness, which is taught seated.  “Party in a chair,” I like to say. It’s really fun.

We sat in a circle and played to music, shaking our limbs to Harry Belafonte’s “Jump in the Line,” clapping to different beat counts as Michael Franti sang “Say Hey!,” having a seated dance party to Abba’s “Mamma Mia,” which I added at the last minute when someone asked “Are you Mia’s mama?” — launching us into a discission of the cheesy but wonderful new movie.  The students—MaryBeth in her bathrobe and Barbara with her broken heart and achy feet, plus Mia and two game colleagues from the administration,—were lively and playful, tossing out comments and ideas, joining in with a freedom and joy that I’ve come to expect whenever I teach Ageless Grace.  Still, it’s always such a delight to midwife it into being.

At the end of class, Barbara, who is vulnerable and bright such that I wondered what life challenges brought her to live at the residence, told me she could feel her feet for the first time in a long time.  “My heart is full of love,” she said.

I gave her a hug and she looked surprised.  Maybe I shouldn’t have touched her—one can no longer assume hugs are welcome.  But she smiled shyly.

”Mine, too,” I told her.


gratitude 29

Beach Bodies

131210-prager_lvwgba-1We took a jaunt up Route 128 this afternoon to visit Wingaersheek Beach, followed by dinner at a tiny restaurant on the water in Annisquam, a quirky oceanfront village just around the coast from Gloucester.  Being on a vacation, John had it in his head that the beach would have emptied out by five o’clock, but of course, on a beautiful summer Sunday in July, there were still hundreds of people enjoying the afternoon when we arrived.

We walked the length of the beach (which is not far), awed by a flotilla of “party boats” lashed together and anchored on the shore across the inlet from Annisquam, power vessels with solid Boston names like “Mahtini,” “Weekendah,” and “The Codfather.”  The boats must have arrived at high tide and moored near shore; a few had misjudged the waterline and were now beached, waiting for the tide to come in again. 80’s and 90’s rock tunes blared from boat speakers, kids paddled in the water, and sunburnt parents draped themselves on deck, enjoying another beer.  My friend Cathy and I brought our kids up to Wingaersheek often when they were young; they loved to climb on the mountainous rocks and collect treasures in the tidal pools.  I had never before seen this side of the beach’s culture:  weekend party central, a parade of summer bodies, tanned, or blotched with uneven burns where the sunblock hadn’t reached, bald, or hairy-backed, the women’s hair wiry from salt, their skin freckled, white lines in the creases of their bronze bellies.

As we walked back to our blanket, I couldn’t help but notice the vast range of shapes and sizes adopted by the human body.  We are daily bombarded with images suggesting there is really one acceptable body type:  lean, balanced proportions, white or light-skinned. But such “paragons” are in the minority, although we did spy one young couple over in party-boat-land who must have been personal trainers, their abs rippling, arms and legs muscular and perfectly chiseled. John went for a swim, but I didn’t want to eat dinner in a wet suit, so I sat on our towel and admired the cavalcade of physiques: a stout toddler splashed in a nearby tidal pool, while his leggy older sister, about eight or nine years old, chased seagulls.  A hunched Asian gentleman in socks and Birkenstocks paced back and forth in front of me, his head extended forward and up like a turtle’s; nubile teenage girls strutted by self-consciously.  Many of the dads today sported big bellies and tattoos, with strong legs and thick necks.  A brown-and-black family paused in front of me, speaking Spanish. The mom was short, heavyset in a shapely way, and toffee brown; her husband was tall and bald, with bony legs, a tight, round tummy, and beautiful black skin.  Their scrawny, long-limbed son resembled his dad, angular and dark.  A full-figured teenage daughter was lush and heavy-bottomed in a Kardashian-y way, with thick, wavy hair pulled back in a pony-tail, her skin a warm tone of creamed coffee.  Elderly people amazed me particularly, years of wear reshaping their bodies into angles, folds, wrinkles and lumps, so many hours in motion across the span of a life creating shapes and whorls like the patterns on seashells.

It was quite a magnificent display of human anatomy.

Gratitude #28