"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Invisible



"Deb, would you like to demonstrate a sit-up for us?"

It was toward the end of my most recent yoga class, well into the floor series, and I was in a groove of knowing the hardest was behind, and a nice long savasana and cold water were within reach. At first I thought Eric was asking someone else. There are two other Debs who practice often at the same time I do. But then I figured out I was the only Deb in the room.

The second I realized he meant me and he was serious, I found myself back in seventh grade, the first year of junior high.

The year I turned twelve. The year my period started. The year I knew for certain I would give anything to be someone else.

P.E. was required. Uniforms, full participation and group showers were mandatory. A complete nightmare for a girl miserable in her own body whose favorite physical activity was turning the pages of a book.

Memory transported me from cute stretchy yoga clothes into the junior high P.E. uniform, a royal blue short-sleeved, short jumpsuit with snaps and elastic waist that binds at every possible intersection of body parts. I'm praying the snaps will hold as I throw my torso forward from the floor toward my bent knees, hands behind my head, elbows flapping like the wings of a desperate bird. A classmate, someone as overweight, out of shape and uncool as I am, holds my feet and counts. The teacher, who after all these years is nothing more in my mind than a whistle and harsh judgement, walks around making sure we keep trying and don't pad the numbers on our recording sheets. Sit-ups aren't the worst thing we have to do. I can at least approximate those, unlike chin-ups which are as beyond me as the cute boys in ninth grade.

The problem is that I'm trying not to sweat, and I can't get a decent count without sweating. I've figured out that if I make it to the locker room after class without sweat, I can usually slip back into my school clothes without showering. The chaos and steam and fact that I'm not a part of any group work in my favor. If someone notices I'm the first one dressed, I just say I was fast.

I will do anything to avoid exposing my round body with boobs barely more than bumps in a room where all I see are beautiful, thin and shapely girls. I will even choose to be less successful than I might otherwise be to stay as invisible as possible.

Invisible. That thought dropped me back into the heat of the yoga studio where at least I've learned to sweat comfortably. While I've accepted that I'm not ever going to catch up with my mostly younger, and incredibly flexible classmates, and I've gotten good at focusing on my own practice, I've also shown up every day with an invisibility cloak draped over my yoga uniform.

I don't want to be noticed. Acceptance, at least the way I've managed it so far, does not include wanting to be seen attempting a practice I'm not that good at in a body I'm still, after all these years, trying to learn to love. And until the last class, except for an occasional gentle adjustment or word of encouragement, the teachers have honored my cloak.

"Deb, would you like to demonstrate a sit-up for us?"

 Lying flat in savasana on my mat, I rolled my head toward Eric's voice and with my eyes asked, "Are you out of your  mind?"

"I'm serious. Everyone, watch Deb as she does this sit-up. Pay attention to how she exhales."

And so before my brain had a chance to offer me any advice at all, I pointed my feet back toward my face, raised my arms over my head, joined my thumbs, breathed in pushing my lower back to the floor, sat up, grabbed my feet, and exhaled sharply twice. Eric praised. The class clapped. I grinned.

One of the most amazing things I've learned in my life, is that as alone as I felt in childhood and adolescence and young adulthood, I was not alone in that feeling. The world is full of people wearing invisibility cloaks, some wearing many layers of them. What I think I'm still learning is that when a person is willing to shine light on their invisibility and to risk exposing what is vulnerable and tender, the resulting glow reveals beauty beyond any previous definition.

Image from virtualdali.com

23 comments:

Cheryl said...

Whenever I come here I am left feeling "wow". Deb I do hope many more come here to read your work, or that it is going into a book. Your writing is breathtaking and you take me back to those same times and feelings. Thanks for sharing and thanks to your yoga teacher for asking for that sit-up!

Barb said...

Hi Deb, Could it be we were in the same gym class? Luckily, the child inside you is venturing forth into a brand new day.

Wanda..... said...

I think you may have just taken off your invisibility cloak with that sit-up, Deb. A post everyone can relate to!

Midlife Jobhunter said...

Why do we have to go through so much in order to understand? I sub in PE often and I see the varied abilities of the kids, along with those that love it, those hating it. I'm much more aware of their feelings now than I ever was growing up. Perhaps conscious of my own inadequacies.

I'm thrilled at how you've succeeded at this yoga venture. Almost makes me want to get to the Y.

Carrie Link said...

Beautifully written, Deb, you transported me right back to my own hideous junior high PE experiences, from which I'm still recovering! Excuse me while I go have a PTSD episode!

Wanda said...

I had that same crappy gym suit. SO is always wanting me to "turn on [my] porch light." Kinda not being invisible, huh?

Jessica Nelson said...

Wonderful writing!

You're right, we're not alone. I was a thin, athletic girl and yet I hated changing in the changing room because I had NO chest. Fourteen and nothing. It was humiliating to me at the time. Now I realize that maybe others were embarrassed too, but I was too busy thinking about myself to notice.

I'm glad those days are gone, even though I still like being invisible. I learn so much more that way. LOL

Congrats on doing a great job in your class!

Lilith said...

I believe I had the same gym class, except I was the horribly thin girl in the class that nobody noticed, except to make fun of.

Tabitha Bird said...

I never did understand American Gym classes. Our gym classes are so very different. No group showers. No singling kids out to do stuff they rather die than do. It's just fun. I loved it. There was no mandatory participation (at least not at the schools I went to or taught at). You could sit it out, but no one wanted to. We couldn't wait to go play outside. That's the other difference. Our classes are always outside. No indoor gyms. And we call it PE. Short for Physical Education. It involves body image and healthy eating lessons. Not just sport. I am sure some schools do it poorly, but I haven't heard of them. Aussie kids love their sport and I think this is why.

You are amazing. Sweat away girl. And make them look :)

Suzy said...

Always teaching....

Beautiful piece Deb.

May I borrow that invisibility cloak?

Love you

Suzy

B. WHITTINGTON said...

Wow. I haven't met too many women/girls who loved gym. It was my most dreaded class. I couldn't do anything including serve a volleyball. The simplest task was beyond me. I wanted to be invisible as well.
I loved how you picked up the gauntlet and did that beautiful sit up. Isn't it incredible we can grow from gawky invisible girls into more secure women. Secure in what we've learned in the years since school.
Blessings.
You've reminded me I need yoga today.

kario said...

So glad you're feeling the community of your yoga class and recognizing how different it is (and you are) from all those years ago.

Love you.

M said...

I still want to wear my invisibility cloak much of the time...but like you, I've learned that I'm not alone. The fears, concerns, secrets that I have are held by many others. It's only through transparency and acceptance of who I am that I need to reach for that cloak as often.

Love
Mark

Sandi said...

Oh my, did that ever hit in numerous places! You know how to punch right through that ole invisibility cloak, don't you, dear girl? I read what you write, and wish I could have said it, your words are so much words I know in my heart of hearts. Oh how I hated PE, and I was one of the skinny ones, and our crazy teachers stood with a clipboard and we had to get a towel, naked, go shower, with everyone, then hand the damn towel to the teacher so she could check us off. I died a million deaths in those smelly old locker rooms. Man is life better these days!
love you and miss you!

Terri Tiffany said...

Oh wow!! I was going to say how much I could relate and then I read all the other comments! LOL I wasn't alone and never realized it. Isn't that sad? I wore those ugly blue gym outfits and I think I only showered once for real all those years! I was the most underweight girl in my class and hated gym!! Funny how those thoughts carry with us in some aspect.

Katie Gates said...

Chills again, Deb! And it's not because I'm sitting here in a royal blue PE uniform. (Oh, yes, I recall it, exactly as you described!) You captured so much familiarity here. Brilliantly told!

Jerri said...

Oh, those "gym suits." The horror.

All this time later, I finally realize my invisibility cloak hid me from myself but not from others. Maybe that's true for all of us.

"when a person is willing to shine light on their invisibility and to risk exposing what is vulnerable and tender, the resulting glow reveals beauty beyond any previous definition."

Amen.

deborahjbarker said...

Beautifully said Deb. I loved reading this and your closing words are truly poetic.

Laura said...

oh Deb....I know this cloak...we all do, you are right...and yes, yes, yes...so much courage to shine that light, (our own inner luminosity)...but when we do...when we do...the generosity of love that comes back to us (now that we are all compassionate grown-ups who totally get it) is phenomenally rewarding. BRAVA....You are a light and I honor you...Namaste!

Kathryn Grace said...

Except for the fact our uniforms were white (for young women in pre-OB-tampon days!) and I was skinny, breastless and teased about it, you could be describing me. And yes, I knew how to be invisible, most of the time. Since then, I've met many women for whom school was their joy, and PE their favorite class of the day. I would rather skulk behind the stacks in the smelly library and read a book or two before the bell rang.

What I love in this is the victory for the young girl you once were as much as for you now. In this story, you've shown women everywhere how take back our power.

Linda Myers said...

Same awful experience in high school PE. Then, in college, I had to take three PE classes. I took archery, bowling and golf - because I didn't have to dress out for them.

Now I walk and do yoga and exercise and get sweaty sometimes. I wear baggy clothes and I don't care who notices. It feels much better to be 62 than it did to be 15.

sallylwess said...

Again, you have captured me and what I experienced as a young girl in a beautifully articulated piece of work. Thank you for giving words to a common experience. It is a comfort to know that you felt, and continue to feel, those feelings with which so many of us have struggled and attempted to overcome.

Amber said...

Oh, your last lines may need to go into my journal.

;)