(Sylvia, who volunteers as a mental health counselor during crises returned recently from floods in New Orleans, Alabama and Mississippi. She's energetic and told me, "Seventy is the new fifty.)
Joanie's allowed into the club because she's in her third round of chemo for breast cancer. I'm allowed--and even welcomed--because I struggle with balance and coordination like many of my elders do.
Everyone’s friendly to me. Naima and Helen and I check in each week. They’ve both missed some classes over the summer, Naima for travel and Helen for the pool. I miss them and worry about them when they’re not there.
Folks in the class come ready to laugh. Last week, a woman wore a shirt that said, "Blessed 2B Dressed."
Chad, who is muscled and maybe in his forties and blind, leads the class. He's got a great sense of humor.
One day last month, Chad had this exchange with Roberta, who is a vocal exercist:
"A woman decided to celebrate her seventieth birthday in the nicest bed she could find, so she stayed at a fancy downtown hotel. The next morning when the bill came, she was shocked to see a $250 charge, so she asked to see the manager.
"'Well ma'am,' he explained, 'There's an Olympic-sized pool that's free of charge for our guests to use.'
"'But I didn't use it,' she complained.
"'But it was available. You could have.'
"The managed tried again to explain: 'There's a deluxe breakfast free to guests.'
"'But I didn't eat it,' she complained.
"'But it was available. You could have.'
"The managed tried again: 'There's was free entertainment in the bar.'
"'But I didn't go to it,' she again complained.
"And he again: 'But it was available. You could have.'
To his surprise, she wrote a check and handed it to him.
"'Ma'am, this check's only for $50. Your charge is for $250.'
"'I've deducted the cost of $200 for a night of unsurpassed passion,' she said.
"'But we didn't have a night of unsurpassed passion,' he told her.
"And she, 'But it was available. You could have.'
Chad laughed with his whole muscled body and then said, "Squats, ten. Begin."
In Silver Sneakers, squats are standing up out of a chair and then sitting back down. I'm getting better.
It helps me to have a blind teacher. I'm such a teacher-pleaser that if Chad could see me, I know I'd be performing. This way, I focus on good form and a strong core.
The hardest exercises for me are coordination exercises. Sometimes, for example, we do different things with our feet and hands. Today, for example, we dragged a foot from front to back while a hand punched from back to front.
I can rub my belly in a circular motion with one hand while I pat my head with the other (I just tried it, so I tell you true), but getting my feet and arms to move in opposing directions is impossible for me so far. I'll get it eventually.
The music plays in the background as we exercise. The class is like a Jane Fonda workout in chairs.
Mostly, the music's just in the background providing a beat, but sometimes the group joins in. I love it when this happens.
A few weeks ago, the song, "Everyone Knows It's Windy," played and the group whistled along. I can't whistle anymore since part of my mouth is paralyzed, but I nodded my head to the beat.
Today, when "You Are My Sunshine" played, the group sang along. Voices were high since most people in the class are women and the men didn't sing: maybe singing isn't considered manly when they're exercising.
I can't sing either, so again I nodded my head and laughed.
The group is jolly, but sometimes one-on-one conversations betray the difficulties of this time of life.
Today after class, Grace told me that she saw me at our hospital, Group Health, yesterday. “Why were you there?” I asked.
“They’ve found a lump on my lung and they’re keeping an eye on it,” she told me.
Last month, I overheard conversation between Carrie and Roberta as they talked on the couches after class:
First they talked animatedly.
Then they got quiet, leaning their heads together. Roberta said something in a whisper.
Carrie said, loudly, "Oh, is it Herbert's birthday?"
More whispering and then in a normal voice, Carrie said, "He's dead?"
After a pause, she said as much to herself as to Carrie, "Herbert's dead. I can't believe Herbert's dead. Last time I saw him, he didn't look well."
There was more silence, and then Roberta went to catch her ride.
When I left, a few minutes later, Carrie was still sitting in the same chair with her back to me. I heard her say, "Ohhh." A quiet moan.
After class, Joanie and I went to Trader Joe’s. Actually, Joanie went to Trader Joe’s. I napped in the car. (Joanie left the windows down just a bit so that I could breathe but I wouldn’t jump out of the car.) I was a good girl and got a dark chocolate truffle bar as my treat.
Next Thursday at Silver Sneakers will be festive. We’re having a potluck. Last time almost everyone brought dessert.