I recently had a reunion with my dearest college friend, Jo Lee, now a professor at the University of Minnesota. Jo has started an insightful blog about “skating and the practice of every day life.” In a conversation with Jo, you get more insights in an hour than you have yourself in a month, and her blog posts are just as thoughtful. She asked me to write a guest post on her blog, which I did happily. It is reposted here, too.
An adage I learned as a kid always struck me as sad: “You can never go home.” It comes to mind because, just this week, I struck out on a journey home, the metaphorical kind. I went skating after a ten year hiatus. Yeah, I did manage to skate socially a couple of times in the last ten years, but those were public sessions. On Friday, I did the real thing — an open figure skating session. And that’s what brought the adage to mind.
In the made-for-TV movies I watched as a kid, “You can never go home” was spoken to sad adults who had made bad choices or had squandered their good years. (Don’t know which years those are, exactly, but screenwriters seem clear on it.) And those words were always spoken wistfully. The speaker wished it weren’t true. We all do. I wondered why going to a skating session brought this to mind. So I overanalyzed it, of course. And here’s what I came up with.
Returning to the ice — and I use “return” in the Norma Desmond sense: “it’s a return, not a comeback” — is 10% about craving something familiar and comfortable and 90% about trying to have a do-over. In my case, it was 100% do-over; I knew there would be no comfort in shivering like a chihuahua at 7am. It was going to be sad and a bit hurtful, both in the soles and the soul. The emotional hurt would come from regret. I was about to get reacquainted with an activity I used to love above any other, an old friend I should have kept in touch with. No modern day Homer would memorialize my journey, but it felt to me more like a quest than an outing.
To my surprise, my soles didn’t hurt. How I could squeeze my size 10 feet into size 8-1/2 Narrow boots and not hurt, I don’t know, but I have a theory. Jo Lee wrote a lovely blog post about our recent reunion. During our conversation, I remarked how, in college, my injuries never hurt when I skated. I used to chalk this up to endorphins, which might actually be the case, speaking clinically. Speaking in psychic or emotional terms, though, nothing hurt when I skated because of how happy I was to be out there. Here I was almost thirty years later, and the same thing happened. Despite the too-small foot gear and the recent months with insufficient exercise, I felt great on the ice.
The other reason I don’t hurt when I skate is because rink time is dream time. I think about what could be, not what is. Maybe I’ll get a double Axel some day, Maybe I’ll get my gold dances some day. Maybe I’ll figure out something to do career-wise that makes me happy. When you’re pumped with hope, you can’t be bothered to feel pain.
And so it was when I hit the ice at 7:15am on Friday. Different dream this time, though. No Axels or choctaws in mind. Survival was the immediate goal. I did have a dream, though. I dreamt of the do-over, not by turning back time, but by picking up the thread I had left dangling. I had kept my skates. Recently, I remounted my blades on older, broken-in boots. Somehow, I was making ready for this. I knew I wanted to get back on the path. You can’t rejoin a path from your past right where you left it, but you can rejoin it where you are now. Axels of any kind? Unwise. Gold dances? How about overcoming that wobbly RFO edge first. Heroic multi-hour skating sessions? Better check with the cardiologist first. Still, I did pick up that thread I had left for myself.
I wobbled, I paused for breath more than I stroked. And I watched the clock — thirty minutes or bust. That meant I was shooting for 7:45. At 7:22, I realized I had already been on the ice for seven minutes. Lost in the skating already — sweet. At 7:35 I began drumming up justifications to call it a morning. The last minute was the hardest; I was close, so was an exact thirty minutes all that critical?
Yeah, the “thirty” mattered. Doing a thing once in a row counts for nothing. One skating session wouldn’t prove much, but if even that gesture were a failure, what would be the point. I had to follow through on at least my short term promise to skate for half an hour. When 7:45 came, I was still moving. I left the ice right then — no more heroics. But I had a renewed sense of hope that I had rejoined the path and would stay on it. Next session: Monday morning.