I am riding the in backseat of Jodi’s car, looking out the window at the clear, blue sky. Jodi is driving, and my best friend Mary is in the passenger seat. It is early Sunday morning and we are headed to the foothills for a hike. As I lean my chin on my hand, I notice the distinct scent of the sunscreen I remembered to put on before we left. There is a hint of coconut to it, a little aloe vera, and probably a bunch of other chemicals combined to do what it’s supposed to do to protect me. Whatever is in it, it’s a smell I love. It reminds me of being outside, of doing something at least a little bit adventurous as we’re doing today, and of my childhood.
I grew up in a then-middle-class neighborhood with tract houses where most of the streets led in one way or another to our grammar school and to “the pool” across the parking lot from it. The first time I went into that pool, just after we moved to Arden Manor, I didn’t really know how to swim. I could keep myself afloat with my own homemade dog paddling, so I could get to the blue and white rope that divided the shallow end from the deep end. But, as I clung to that thick, nylon divider, I worried about how I was going to get back to where I could stand with my head above water. My thoughts were abruptly interrupted when the lifeguard blew his whistle and pointed sternly to the steps near the 3-ft. line. I knew I was in trouble. I’m not sure if my mom signed me up for lessons later that summer or the next, but I eventually learned how to swim—a skill that seemed to open up a whole new world for me.
As we get closer to our destination, I feel the trepidation that comes from not knowing exactly what lies ahead.
I was 10 or 11 when I joined the diving team, an obvious off-shoot of my interest in gymnastics. But I was much better at the precision and subtlety of diving than I was at uneven parallel bars, so summer began to hold a kind of magic for me. I would feel it every day when I rode my Schwinn 3-speed through the neighborhood to diving practice. I could feel the cool, morning air on my legs as I climbed up the stairs to “the high board,” as we called it then. I could smell the chlorine from the pool and that sunscreen on my face as I adjusted the fulcrum, took my approach, and did my one and a half in pike position. What it meant for me on those mornings, and at the diving meets held once a week in the evenings, is that I was trying something new, taking a risk, testing what it felt like to add to the person I was.
In a weird way, I have that same sense riding up the hill with these two women I feel I’ve known forever. We are all women of a certain age, looking at a much shorter path ahead of us than the long winding ones behind us. Even in our 50s and 60s, we each feel the need to still build on who we are, to try new things, to push ourselves, but to also enjoy all that we have become. I never thought about being old when I was young. Old is what my parents were. They were in their 50s during those summers I spent at the pool. Their lives seemed flat and uninteresting to me, but I never connected that to anything that would ever happen to me.
On this day, we are not actively thinking about being old. If anything, we are feeling grateful for the chance to be outside, to move our bodies, to see the foothills and the river. I hold my hand to my face and take in that scent again. I’m reminded of beaches, of long runs on hot days, of travelling adventures. My fingers are crossed as I hope for so many more days like this—to enjoy my people and life, and to keep letting myself gravitate toward things that scare me a little. As we get closer to our destination, I feel the trepidation that comes from not knowing exactly what lies ahead. But I also feel gratitude for being brave enough and open enough to keep moving forward.