It may surprise you to know that I hug and kiss my coach before we begin. It may surprise you a little more to know that she is ten.
Sarah is a competent gymnast and has been training for three years. Her ambition is to be a first-rate gymnast. To that end she practices regularly and takes lessons each week. Periodically she and her classmates give a public performance that is nothing short of amazing. She aspires to more and is always talking of Amy, who apparently can do more things than she can and with greater finesse. I am impressed enough with what Sarah can do.
I get even more impressed when I try to do what she does. What she gets me to do is supposed to be basic. To me it seems to be limb-shattering. It feels occasionally like I am putting my body through a medieval rack. My arms go in unruly directions, my bones creak audibly, my legs give way abjectly, and my tortured muscles crave to be somewhere else. But my soul wants to persist, in the ludicrous ambition to be less gauche and more nimble in whatever I do.
Truth be told, it has something to do with my coach. She is nothing if not enthusiastic. If I am forgetful or tardy, she turns up at my door. At the least, I receive a text message on my mobile phone. When I turn up, lights are on and there are mats ready on the floor.
All the time, my diminutive coach does the turns with ease and grace, going smoothly from one movement to another, while I struggle to keep up, spirited but breathless. She cheerfully demonstrates the right moves, smiles at my awkwardness and helps if I fail to achieve the right posture. She is patient and good-natured, and, I guess, somewhat resigned to a pupil whose gymnastic potential is limited and whose tenacity barely keeps up with his target.
Limited as I am in performing the routine she wants me to learn, I admire her gentle persistence and unfailing humor. She hops from one exercise to another effortlessly, her little frame lithe and pliant, her face usually sunny but sometimes serious with focus, her short braid undulating from side to side, her little arms and legs spelling the correct configuration.
In Washington I became a member of an exclusive gym and pumped iron for some years, but I never found it interesting and my heart was not in it. Roy had raised my expectations and I wanted exercises to be enlivening as well as energetic. In the gym, despite the proddings of the trainer, they were not. I found myself doing the very minimal and supplementing exercises with long, agreeable walks around the lake near my home.
As we finish, she brings me a steaming cup of tea. Quite the angel.
I think I can keep doing this for a while yet.