In the Pool II: Learning Gratitude for Casual Friendships – a Process

C. and I bond over birds. He recounts his joy at the late-season appearance of Bluebirds in his yard. I am tickled to share this morning’s story from the Times about wild turkeys taking over towns across the U.S., this day before Thanksgiving.

The conversing balloons of our heads float above the rippling blue at the deep end of the pool as our legs jog-pedal below.  We are there to get healthier than we were, and have struck up a casual friendship over a shared interest in fowl.

I know nothing about C. except that he seems a kind and friendly person.  I suspect we share a political point of view from a few remarks he’s made to other floating heads, but I don’t know his last name, where or if he works, if there’s a wife and family…  I just know he will be eager to share his latest sightings with me when we meet in the pool again next time.

J. is another pool-pal. She volunteers at a local nonprofit and is a champion for its activities among the water therapy crowd. She was the first to welcome and introduce me to other ‘regulars’ when I started at the pool. She notices if I miss a day and encourages me to keep coming.  She’s a champion ‘squatter’ and is proud that her legs are strong enough to get her up off the ground if she should fall.

Mondays are water aerobics with Joy.  Friday is a pick-up volleyball game – women only. Wednesdays are quieter, especially very early, and my favorite time in the pool.

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I have never been an overtly social person.  I don’t make an effort to meet new people or strike up conversations with strangers.  I enjoy my solitude and eschew casual conversation.  I would rather have three friends over for dinner and deep conversation, than go to a party with dozens of casual acquaintances.  Even though I’m a member of the Art Museum, I never attend “member preview” events, preferring to wait a few weeks to quietly spend time with the work alone – un-bothered by crowds and superficial comments from strangers.

So the collegiality of the pool was uncomfortable for me at first.  I kept my distance, intent on doing my own thing, avoiding eye contact and focusing determinedly on my workout routine.

But you can’t be a loner in the pool.  It doesn’t matter that you may seem to have nothing in common with those disembodied bodies bobbing around you – but you do.  It can be unspoken, and often is.  No one has asked me why I am there. But we all know — and accept — that we belong to the same club; an informal society of aging, injured or recovering humans, intent on soldiering on as long as we can.

So this morning, I was more comfortable than I would have been a few months ago when C. asked about the tattoo on my shoulder.  “Is that a ground-burrowing owl?” he asked?  “No,” I said, spinning around so he could get a better look; “it’s a Great Horned.”

I didn’t offer any details, however.


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This post was written during my stint as a “Writer in the Window” at Apple Tree Books; part of the celebration of National Novel-Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). 

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