As someone whose talents are primarily intellectual, I cling to the few physical talents I’ve exhibited over the years to a degree that defies logic. A few of them have almost become identities. I carry them with me. Yoga is probably the most sticky, mainly because you can do it anywhere. But deeper than that is figure skating, probably because it’s been with me longer. I’ve been skating since I was 10. And few things ever have, probably ever will, lift my spirits like skating does – the fact I got to go today probably explains the good mood I’ve been in since I got home.
It’s funny, though, because even though I took to skating like a fish to water from the first time I tried it, I still fall all the time. I actually bruised my elbow so badly last time I went, in early January, that it still hurts to put weight on it. So today, after my first fall (caused by improperly tied skates, as my first session falls usually are), I went off to fix them when I nearly ran over a man. He was probably about 65-70, big Santa beard, long white hair. But what made me stare, probably for longer than I should have, was that he had no no legs. But he was at the edge of the rink, as though he were about to get on.
I watched him over the tips of my skates while I re-tied them, waiting for him to get out a prosthetic or something. I don’t really know what I expected him to do. He got off his wheelchair and went onto the ice. Right behind him was what was basically a sled. He moved using these two sticks with rubber coated tips, surprisingly nimble on this thing. The sticks, then, served two purposes as he hit a hockey puck around the rink.
He was there for a while. The nice thing about a small town rink on a Thursday afternoon was there was hardly anyone there for most of the time. It was easy to see (and, I’ll admit, watch) Hockey Man and the three other skaters on the rink and still be able to go about my business. But later on, a while after Hockey Man had left, what I think was a college figure skating club came in and were practicing and having lessons. As though I hadn’t already seen one amazing example of “no excuses” that day, though: easily the best skater among them – not by a hair but by a significant margin – was a girl who had to have been at least 200 pounds.
She was incredible. Not in spite of her body, either – because of it. Double jumps and sit spins are not kid stuff, but she threw them around like confetti at New Year’s Eve, and she was the one the other girls went to for help – even while their coach was still on the rink. In a notoriously image-conscious sport like skating, hers isn’t a body that’s seen often. Hockey Man’s isn’t one seen ever, really, at ice rinks. But there they both were, defying expectations – and not for the sake of defying expectations, either, they were there for the joy of skating.
It’s funny because when the skating club came out, all these girls who were younger than me but way better, because they’ve actually had lessons – I felt so self-conscious at first. It’s hard not to when everything I know in skating, I learned not from lessons (which, at $1/minute, I could never afford) but by messing around and trying stuff. And I kept getting in their way. It’s kind of inevitable at a certain level – advanced skating is fast and takes up a lot of rink space, but every time I expected them to kind of scowl at me for being in their way, they just smiled. When I nearly ran over one of them while going backward, she just laughed and kept going.
Many years ago, I received a piece of advice from a skater that has stuck with me: you’re at your best when you’re having fun. For better or for worse, your attitude has a way of bleeding through and affecting your rhythm, so it’s better to affect it positively. My self-consciousness felt so silly by the time I left that I drove home feeling joyful.
This is the kind of day that could have happened anywhere, but it happened precisely where I didn’t expect it. And that’s the thing – I didn’t expect it, so it was a blessing. Human beings are so beautiful and resilient and talented and unexpected. And I feel like everyone I saw there, even though I talked to none of them, taught me something, even if I’m not exactly sure what.
That, and they badly made me want to take skating lessons, but that’s a matter for another time.