On a day when I felt confident and almost outside of myself, looking in, I visited the swimming pool across from my apartment building. I wanted to prolong and revel in the comfort I felt in my own skin as I’ve never spent much time feeling warm and contented there. It had never been a safe place for me to be unapologetically in my body, without hiding or squashing or shortening it. This day was different – I wore a bikini, dropped my towel and strode across the wet, warm floor and into the pool.
I was floating about, quietly, focusing on the sensations of the sun on my exposed skin and the weightlessness of my body. An elderly gentleman must have sensed my openness and approached me for a conversation.
Normally I’d be tentative and probably exchange pleasantries with a stranger before leaving, but on this occasion, I stayed. We chatted for hours. It was the most illuminating time I’ve spent with another person in my life.
He talked about his life and I listened intently and was curious about all of it. There wasn’t much talking on my part, apart from asking question after question. He divulged, openly, with no hesitation. He spoke of his early adulthood when he’d moved to India at 19 years old to “find the meaning of life”. I asked if he’d found it. He said he had. I raised my eyebrows and asked if he’d share it with me. I expected him to say something frustrating like “It’s not something you can simply share – you have to experience it”, or some other bullshit, but instead he shared with me things that challenged deeply held perspectives I had about my relationship with my own body and others’.
He talked about the absurd preoccupation we have with grooming our physical selves, often to the detriment of our spiritual selves. I’m not sure he used the word “soul”, but he referred to our physical selves as incredibly temporary and our spiritual selves as everlasting. I’m not a religious person and spirituality is something I am cynical of. I thought of matter and how it cannot be made, nor destroyed, only change form, in a way. Instead of immediately clouding my eyes to this conversation, I thought about his perspective and how it could fit within my own understanding of the world. At the very least, it was his truth and clearly something he’d investigated and lived with for 60 or so years.
He talked about our bodies as “bags of pus and dirt” and waxed lyrical about how we spend so many years and dollars trying to perfect what those “bags of pus and dirt” look like. It was confronting to hear someone reduce humans to a bag of pus and dirt, but I guess his point was that this is what we do all the time. We might be pretty incredibly made bags of pus and dirt, but what we’re made of is simple. He was passionate about it but he wasn’t condescending. He simply shared his perspective and he wasn’t at all concerned with what I thought of him while speaking it. I admired that.
After leaving the swimming pool, I walked across the road and felt hyper sensitive to the wind that made my skin prickle and the chlorine soaked hair that stuck to my cheeks. I got home and stood in front of my mirror. I thought about the efforts I made to change my body to fit it into a certain shape. On my face, I removed hair from my eyebrows and painted my face occasionally with eyeshadow and lipstick and blush. I had a slim body and I noticed the abdominal muscles and biceps and was pleased that my efforts in the gym resulted in this particular set of outcomes. Despite that moment, I rarely felt comfortable in my skin and reflected on how contented the old man was in his. Maybe it was his life experience or maybe it was his perspective or a combination of the two. Either way, his self-assurance was something I coveted.
I let my body fall away from my view and instead focused on my eyes. Those would be with me always – or at least the something ethereal that existed behind them – the thing that made me, me. I felt warmth and happiness when thinking about that intangible something. It was a good, beautiful something that I hadn’t neglected but had never praised myself for. I pledged then that I’d notice the everlasting something in myself and others tenfold more than the temporary from then on. I’m sure a contentedness must come from knowing that the vessel is less important than the heart inside.
Some people learn that in India and some at the swimming pool. What an adventure life is.