Saturday, December 16, 2017, Beethoven’s Birthday
Last night, for the first time in maybe 20 years, I put on a pair of rented skates and stepped–very reluctantly–on to the ice rink downtown beneath an enormous, lit Christmas tree. It was much worse than I had imagined.
I had hoped a couple of times around the rink holding on to the rail and I would balance well enough to wobble around sans handrail. No. It was not exactly like I had never been on skates before–but it was a very close relative to it! I shuffled and clung and pictured bones snapping like twigs as I went down.
I had not wanted to go from the beginning. At 3:00 pm I had texted Thomas, Are we still doing this? Yes, he texted back. Period. Later, as we waited in line, Thomas apologized for the wait to rent skates. Oh, no, I said, this is the best part: my bones are still intact and my legs are under me–no complaints! Really, I kept looking at the people walking by, including one in a baby carriage, and thought, they don’t have to skate. Why me?
I continued to enjoy every minute–up until the skates were on and I hobbled out to the rink. If I can’t balance on them on dry land how will I ever manage on frozen water? (I prefer my water in soluble form.) And then we waited again, for the Zambonie machine to finish and for the rink to open. Finally, I had to sit down. My ankles were going to snap before I ever got out there!
Once on the ice it was, as I said, worse than I had imagined. I had hoped for the old, “it’s like riding a bicycle” thing to happen. No. Instead, it’s like I am a 5 foot and 120- pound 6 year-old–only this time my skates are not double-runners and my mom is not skating backwards holding my hands. Seven months of chemotherapy, 3 months of physical therapy and this is how I treat my body? My oncologist is going to kill me if I break a bone.
So I shuffle around the rink remembering only one thing, try to push off sideways with the blade, like I was cross-country skiing. Of course, they have given me “boys” skates: hockey skates, instead of figure skates. So every time I reach out to put the tip of my skate in the ice to push off, I nearly go head over heels. I shuffle along behind a young man who shuffles behind a little girl who has 8 legs, going in every direction except forward. I am thoroughly shocked when I find I have circumnavigated the rink once. Oh my god, I am still alive and intact!
My second time around a gentleman my age standing outside the rail (on unmoving ground) looks me in the eye as I struggle by and says, “The Black Hawks are looking at you!” It is not long after that that I hear the music playing, Christmas carols, traditional versions and not too loud, but loud enough to hear over the squealing, laughing, and jibing of ice skaters.
And on the far side of the rink–the City’s Christmas tree glows enormous out of the darkness, ringed by skyscrapers with red and green lights, and even a few tiny lit trees in windows overlooking the park. Snow has started falling, a light brush of flakes, almost imperceptible except on my face and against the street lights. A hundred kinds of laughter ring up from the ice.
It is a United Nations on the ice, some Asian Indian or maybe Pakistani young men clinging to the rail, all with the stylish dark, big glasses young people are wearing, smiling self-consciously as I careen into them. The young hispanic father with his tiny daughter sweeping the ice in front of him, Asian couples holding hands and skating freely in the center. A hispanic parent watching her teenage girls calls out to me as I lurch past, “You are doing it!” Couples speaking Polish, German, Spanish.
And all the young people who, as I bear down on them saying loudly, “I’m coming around you…watch out! Here I come around you,” as I let go of the rail and strike out alone to navigate a tiny semi-circle of ice around their little group–in order to get to the rail again.
All the young people who look up at me, or down on me: my legs splayed, ankles turned in, bent over and wobbling, calling, “Watch out! Here I am! Coming around you!”
–All the young people who look up at me and smile, who extend hands and gloves and mittens, arms and bodies and say, “Here!” Who reach out to me–reach out for me–smile as I careen into them or edge shakily around them, who extend themselves with their eyes and voices, “Here!” –To me, as if they were so many young, welcoming shores and I an aging, rickety craft struggling against waves of ice and time, “Here!” Here. In this moment. Now. God incarnate.