082221 human condition (toned)

The water seems bluer today, the sun warm on my shoulders. The Senior Power class is meeting in the outdoor pool on this early summer day, and the pool is full.

A couple dozen women wearing hats and sunglasses, mixed with a few stalwart men, stand chest-deep in the water — an active, chattering group.

We all missed a lot over the past 15 months, and for me, the pool and water aerobics were high on my list.

During the long months of the pandemic lockdown, some of our “pool gang” kept in touch by phone, checking on one another and worrying about staying healthy.

When the vaccine became available for our age group last winter, we fried the phone lines trying to make appointments to get the shots. Barbara said we were a bunch of senior druggies, frantically trading phone numbers, finagling to get our “fix.”

But we all viewed the vaccine as a great gift — a chance to protect ourselves and others from a deadly disease, yes, but especially a way to get our lives back. By early March, with the pools at Ochsner Fitness Center open for individual exercise at limited capacity, we regularly reserved our spots and waved at each other across the water, vaccinated and counting the days when aerobics classes would resume.

Finally the day has come when we can grab our water weights and those Styrofoam tubes we call noodles and line up for Cindy’s spirited instructions. As usual, we work our jaw muscles along with everything else. After all, we haven’t been together during the long months of COVID-19. The greetings remind me of those weeks after Hurricane Katrina, when New Orleanians encountered each other, on sidewalks or in grocery aisles, with “You’re back! How’d you make out?” But there are no spontaneous hugs now, and even in the pool we keep our distance.

Some greetings are met with somber news.

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“I recovered from COVID, then had a bad fall,” says Jean, “but I’m back.”

“I lost two cousins,” reports Johnny. “One was my fishing buddy. I miss him.”

Others tell tales of family members or spouses suffering illness or surgeries, eliciting murmurs of sorrow or encouragement. Still, today the sun is shining, and we’re together, back in the pool.

“Jog!” shouts Cindy. “Move it! Remember: Squeeze that derrière — if you don’t squeeze it, nobody else will!” Laughter rings out from exuberant bodies, moving in unison.

Just as we begin a series of jumping jacks, two teenage counselors usher a long line of student campers through the gate and along the side of the pool. These are small campers — probably kindergarten age — and they’re all wearing identical blue T-shirts.

The last little boy in line stops, staring intently at the pool full of jumping seniors. Finally he looks up at the counselor behind him and says, in a tone of wonder, “Grownups are bouncing up and down.”

Yes, indeed we are.

— Perry lives in New Orleans

Advocate readers may submit stories of about 500 words to The Human Condition at features@theadvocate.com. There is no payment, and stories will be edited. Authors should include their city of residence, and, if writing about yourself, a photo.