My New Hero

This post first appeared on the Perspectives series on KQED.  You can listen here.

Rushing to change into my street clothes after a morning swim, I heard “can I help you with that?” I looked up to see a young woman reaching out to help an older lady  pull her shirt over her shoulders. As she gently tugged it down, the older woman adjusted it and nodded an awkward “Thank you,”.  Ashamed that I hadn’t even noticed her difficulty, I watched her closely in case she needed more help. And what I saw astonished me.

Slowly, so slowly, she sat, lifted a foot with great effort, and worked her sock up over her foot. Her movements were exquisitely deliberate, as if under water. I wondered how she would manage her shoes as I bent easily to tie my own.  I took my time packing up my gym bag so I could help if needed, and because her project was mesmerizing. After maneuvering her second sock on, she dropped her shoes on the floor near her feet, stuck her toes in one opening, then pulled out a long shoe horn and worked it in behind her heel until her foot was in. Then she did the other shoe.  No hint of struggle or frustration in this Herculean effort, just slow and patient. She didn’t need my help.

I have occasionally felt impatient with slower lap-swimmers in the pool. And I have been known to congratulate myself for getting up early and going to the gym. But it is easy for me: I am forty-six and fit, my body moves well and responds quickly when it needs to. But this woman – I imagined the determination it took to dress in the morning, to get herself there, and the effort and persistence it took to exercise.

So now I have a new role model at the gym. It is not the sweat-glistened, washboard abbed queens of the spin class. Instead it is a round, wrinkled, quiet old woman who hasn’t surrendered to her infirmities but instead has met them with dignity and purpose. I hope one day when physical limitations come, I can do the same.