Last week, I found myself alone in the women’s locker room of the YMCA, with another young female, whom I will call Beth. In an attempt to pass time, Beth and I began to make congenial small talk.
At first, I didn’t notice anything strange. But slowly, it became obvious that Beth was slurring her words. Her speech became drawn out and sputtered.
Her gesticulations were choppy and slightly erratic, like an unfueled automobile. But her cognitive thought process was perfectly normal of a stranger making polite conversation – calm, rational and friendly.
She then began changing into her swimsuit. Under normal circumstances, maybe I would have laughed, but when she farted, I ignored it.
When it happened repeatedly, she embarrassingly apologized. I looked over in her direction and noticed she was struggling to change, and had drool hanging from the side of her mouth.
I decided it would be best to mind my own business, but when I heard the banging against the lockers, I had to look.
Beth had begun hitting her head against the locker as she bawled in frustration. “I hate this disease! I hate it!” she yelled over and over.
I looked over in shock, not knowing what to do. When the banging stopped, Beth hid her face in her hands, crying.
“I didn’t always used to be this way,” she began to explain. “I fought off this disease for 15 years. Now all the sudden in the past 14 months, it’s hitting me like a truck. It’s completely ruining my life.”
Although she was a complete stranger, something about her unassuming demeanor, youth and honesty made me feel close to her.
I wanted to say something comforting. I wanted to run over to her and smooth her flushed forehead with consoling warm palms. But I didn’t.
Instead, I struggled to find my voice and helplessly assembled a few trite words. Thankfully, she gestured an appreciative, warm smile.
After she collected herself she calmly explained her neurological disease, including the detail that she swam daily in attempts to regain fundamental motor skills.
Brief breakdown aside, she seemed excruciatingly strong and determined. She was also somewhat motherly, for she didn’t mind sharing sincere advice with a stranger.
“If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything,” she warned me. “You can want and work for all the things in the world, but ambition won’t get you anywhere if you can’t get your body to take you there.”
It was a stern, but heartfelt, remark, which I sense was directed toward herself just as much as it was to me.
Yet, something about the tone in her voice made me feel guilty. Here was Beth, making every attempt to reach her potential physical peak, which would only match half of what most people are capable of. Then there was me, a young, spry college student who spent most of my days taking everyday body movement for granted.
Suddenly, it doesn’t seem like sporadic visits to the gym or riding my bike is enough. As an able-bodied person, because I have the ability to engage in adventurous activities, I should do more than just the minimum.
It’s great to stay active for health reasons, but movement of the body should go far beyond necessity. Why not partake in kinesthesia purely for the enjoyment and bodily high?
For those of you who do, you should be applauded and admired, for we all need to learn about physical awareness and appreciation.
Luckily for me, my interaction with Beth helped me do that. Walking around, I became aware that I could feel the pavement beneath my feet and do a cartwheel if I pleased.
As a result, I am inspired to partake in activities that focus on kinesthetic stimulation just as much as they do health. Thankfully, interactions with people like Beth show us that our physical potential is much higher than we believe it is.
If we’re appreciative, we’ll be able to discover that potential.
Eva Liao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.