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Locker Room Three

Locker Room Three

Monday, Wednesday, and Friday each week I suit up for exercise in the men's locker room at the best little aquatic center in the free world. I've written about the place twice before. Without photos, for obvious reasons.

Last week the manager of the operation dropped by while I was dressing.  One thing led to another, about my talking too much, and I delivered to him an observation truer than I might be willing to admit, that in retirement I have been fulfilling John Wesley's claim about his ministry: "The world is my parish." Especially the locker room at Cornerstone Aquatic Center.

It is the only place in Central Connecticut that I am likely to be greeted with a "Hi, pastor."  The auto repair people call me "Reverend," but the intimacy and affection packed into that six letter word evoking shepherd and sheep always makes me glad to be me. Credit Doug from Buffalo, seconded by a musicologist with his own weekly hour of classical music on FM, with their pleasing habit of addressing me as a keeper of the flock.

Which is probably what I am doing, by training and lifelong practice, engaging those in my circle in conversation sometimes just banal but often deep and personal.  Like Paul, verging on 70, who grew up in Laurelton, cheek by jowl to Valley Stream, my neighborhood for thirty years: he's a PhD and marathon swimmer, a gentle soul nonetheless, about whom there is a great sadness for the loss of an adult child. 

Like Sam (Salvatore, really) who credits me every time he sees me with two choice tidbits of wisdom, that (1) life and most everything else is a mystery, and (2) make the most of the moment because it is all we have.  And Sam pays me no mind when I tell him the ideas are not original with me but come from Jesus.

Like Eamon, with a wonderful soft Irish lilt to his voice, who read our daughter's book about my Mom and my aunt, immigrants like Eamon from the auld sod.  He doesn't share my fondness for Guinness, preferring chardonnay; but he does share my interest in matters eternal and, like me, CCRWH, quick to sniff out phoniness in purveyors of religion. 

Like Jim, who will be reading this essay, the Dad who put five children through the best small liberal arts colleges in New England, a world traveler and lover of opera, who whenever he sees me has another bon mot to edify me; a generous critic of my musings on this website, Jim is candid but generous in his assessments of my efforts, hopefully this one too.   

Like David, younger than me by four months, the former medical director of a local hospital, Princeton hockey defenseman, who was prep schooled with five of my college classmates, no stranger personally to medical insults, the fellow I see on Sundays a head above everyone else in the pews in front of me.

Like Ken, who could have been my classmate at Trinity College in 1949, a retired insurance agent, fellow Methodist, who pegged me earlier on as one of those A type personalities, but never held it against me, conversant always about matters denominational.

Like Greg, a thirty something who had both hips replaced by the same orthopedist who did my knees, wanting himself to be a doctor but settling necessarily for a job in one of the Hartford insurance companies, the fellow with whom I have commiserated about rehab and the difficulty of getting admitted to med school, an open and unassuming soul with a Greek surname and an Italian heritage.

Or Patrick the Dublin-educated geriatrician who must have kissed the Blarney Stone because he once greeted me as I emerged from the exercise room as the poster boy for successful aging.

Something is missing here.  I should say, someones are missing here.  Women.  Obviously they have no place in the men's locker room.  But I do have my fairer parishioners, met along the way to lifting eight pound dead weights and touching my toes.  Tweetie (that's what she told me to call her, Tweetie as in Tweetie Bird), for instance, raised in Viet Nam, wife of a naval officer there, emigrating of necessity in the aftermath of the war; an avid exerciser in her seventh decade, declaring in no uncertain words that those of us born here have no idea how wonderful we have it.

And Leesa, architect, photographic artist, who has steered me clear of home repair contractors who cheat, the woman who, with her husband beside her, sits in front of us at monthly concerts at The Bushnell named after (the building about which I feel the need to point out) a Hartford pastor whose parish interests spread far and wide.

Or Alexandria, the fine arts expert from Russia, gregarious and inquisitive, sometimes unintelligible for her accent, an occasional companion in the hot tub.

Plus Judy, the French horn player in a local symphony, trim in her eighth decade, with whom I chat about church (hers is Lutheran) and stenosis (from which the two of us suffer), an avid exerciser who still climbs the precipitous slope from the exercise center to her home, which effort would be an invitation to someone like me for a heart attack.

My new appointment (the locker room) has not kept me that busy with ritual duties: just one funeral, ninety year old Jim Bishop; and one wedding, Jay's younger son. Prayer in the shadow of the shower room would be unwelcome and more than a little tacky. Still I'm amused by the congruency of conversations in the locker room with those, in my previous life, in living rooms and beside hospital beds.  Serious doesn't mean somber. Who we are and what we are is resident in every sentence, holy or wholly mundane, we utter.  I simply relish engaging other souls and even in my ninth decade am profoundly curious about them.      

I don't wear a ritual stole in the locker room, but my bathing suit is solid black with cardinal trim.

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