I'm sitting in the shade at the apartment complex pool. I'm trying to be completely invisible (as required for the parents of teenaged girls) while still keeping an eye on Boo and her 4 new friends from church who have come over to swim. I've looked up from my book (Take This Bread by Sara Miles, if you were wondering) to find that real life is more interesting.
In addition to Boo and her friends, young twentysomethings are gathering around the pool, koozies and bags of charcoal in hand. At first, it's the guys--all shirtless, all goodlooking in an athletic way (if you like that sort of thing), all mind-numbingly young. It's funny--they gulp their beers and then burp loud and long, but you can still tell that they know that they are the beautiful people. Then the girls start to arrive--all lovely in their see-through coverups and their long hair and long legs and they are tan, tan, tan. I know for a fact that when we were that young, we were not that beautiful.
As they play volleyball and ready the grill and greet each other, "hug-hug" with cigarette held at arm's length, I'm only mildly envious of their good looks, their youth, their casual coolness. Because it's also very evident to my middle-aged, experienced eye that they are painfully self-conscious, completely aware that their very emotional survival depends on how beautiful they are and how cool they appear. I vaguely remember when the stakes were that high and don't miss it at all.
Then, another middle aged mom comes into view with two tiny girls holding her hands, carrying floaties, one blond with creamy skin and the other with eyes, hair and skin the color of cinnamon. My first thought is, "There's a story there . . . " and my second thought follows it immediately: This is one brave lady. Because the mom (or maybe grandma) probably weighs more than 350 lbs and is wearing a swimsuit, ready to get in the water with her girls. To get to the pool, she has to walk past the grill and the volleyball area and all the recliners full of beautiful girls getting beautiful tans. And she does. Today, she's my hero.