I’m sitting on an uncomfortable bench at my daughter’s gymnastics center. There’s no room on the uncomfortable benches in front of the window where you can attempt to find your child somewhere in the rainbow of leotards among the hundred or so girls jumping and stretching and flipping and lifting weights and doing situps. Instead, I’m crouched between hoodie-slung hooks in the corner, where the girls stash their stuff while they practice. Hallowe’en banners are hung in front of me, covering the photographs of girls taken during competition–donning ballerina poses and midair splits, toes pointed and fingers stretched skyward. Next to me, a mish-mosh pile of flip-flops and woolly boots indicate the time of year–less uniquely fall than a mesh of leftover summer and rapidly approaching winter.
We are in it. School, sports, and the schedules of the season assault us from all angles. The grind takes over. We must carry ourselves and our children, and sometimes our co-workers and families and students, through each day, and we must work to remember that the grind does not define us. We must look up and around to take it all in. We must breathe and see and taste and smell and scream, if need be, to be present to this moment. This moment, after all, is all that we have, and everything we need to be happy is here.
One of the girls in the gym is a national champion. She is older than most of the others and has been doing this her whole life. Right now, I can see her face; she is pushing through a boring everyday workout, and it hurts. Pain like sweat drips down her face in the downward turn of her mouth. The other girls look up to her; the gym promotes her relentlessly. Her picture is taken frequently. She is naturally shy, I’ve noticed, preferring to keep to herself than dominate the room as she practices. She is beautiful. I hope she knows that she is–that her strength is here in this moment as much as the day she got her gold medal.
The leotards of life surround us, glorious in their shades and shimmer. We suit up in our uniforms and head out of our safe spaces, pushing ourselves through the grinding calisthenics required to stay limber and lean. We jump and roll, trying to hide in the crowd when our muscles ache, standing straight and tall on the days we want to be noticed. We hobble, at times, walking instead of running, wrapping ourselves in casts or bandaids or self-doubt. We crawl on our bellies across the floor, feeling the drag of our skin and the burn in our bodies. We don’t want to get up when the exercise changes. Sometimes, the bar we must practice on seems too high, and we forget that it’s ok to fall, that we’ve done it before and will remember how to tuck and land safely. We forget, perhaps, that someone is there to spot us.
Then there are times when it is easy to fly. The tips of our fingers are as long as our legs, and our lashes will laugh us to the sky if we need them to. We can feel our hearts beating as we dance; we know we are alive. Each pulse of the earth’s breath comes from us, from the stretch in our limbs and the bend in our backs. We are perfect, just as we are. We are a rainbow of light and life.