all of the selves we Have ever been
I am feeling weepy today.
Serena Williams will take the court
at the Arthur Ashe stadium this evening. It is possible that this will be the last time she participates in the U.S. Open or any professional tennis match. Though she dislikes the word “retire,” Serena told Vogue magazine that she is “evolving away from tennis” to grow her family and her business interests.
Just shy of her 41st birthday, Serena is a 23-time grand-slam champion. Even though I don’t know much about tennis, I do know that is a remarkable record. And while I have no money on the game, I am rooting for Serena to come out on top at the Open. I want to see her go out in glory.
I was in high school in 1973 when Billy Jean King took on Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes. It seems ridiculous today that that tennis match was such a big deal, but women’s sports and women, in general, took a back seat to men. It was not long after Billy Jean King won that match that I graduated from high school and went to work in an office. What we would call sexual discrimination today was the order of business back then. I remember young women law clerks being told that a woman would never sit in the board room or new female associates being told that if they were thinking of having children, they could kiss their careers with the firm goodbye.
Young women of that era worried constantly about their weight as they squeezed themselves into short skirts and high heels, served the coffee, picked up the boss’s dry cleaning, and typed the boss’s kid’s term papers. Women made little money because it was considered pin money: “Buy yourself a nice dress,” money. Leave the real earning power to men.
We did what we had to do, and thankfully, we tossed an evolving, improving world to the next generation. Serena caught the ball and hit it farther than any woman of my generation, white or black, could have imagined. She is beautiful and powerful in a way that the ancient Greeks and Romans would have memorialized in statues. Her spirit is indefatigable, and she is a force that transcends envy. One can only feel awe.
So, I am cheering for Serena today. Do it for yourself, Serena. Do it for all of us. And do it in the Arthur Ashe Stadium, the namesake of another tennis great who dared to pick up a racket in 1949 and changed the rules of the game.
The wheels turn slowly. Some of us push, others drive, and then there are the exceptions, the few who fly. Many of us fought the good fight. We are coming to the finish of the race. You help us to keep the faith, Serena. Show ‘em how it’s done.
I stood in the check-out line behind a young woman dressed in rainbow-colored leggings. The leggings were so tight that I’m pretty sure the woman had a beauty mark on her right butt cheek. I felt a little awkward with this view of the woman, so I tried to avert my gaze. The outfit seemed to say, “Look!” but it felt wrong to see so much. Shifting my eyes to the phone charger display, I wondered, what is the correct reaction to this new wardrobe phenomenon? Envy? Acceptance? Disdain?
I decided to go with discomfort. Even my own skin doesn’t fit that tight. If I were I to try to stuff myself into a pair of those leggings, it would be like trying to get rising dough to stay in a teacup or a helium balloon to stay in a paper bag. There would be a lot of fruitless pushing and punching going on. Regardless of the self-flagellation, something would be left hanging out, and it would be a lot more than a beauty mark.
I have to accept that I am of an age when the term “skin-tight” no longer applies to me. I have been voted off that island and sent to the place where what is baggy is me. Any clothes that fit like my skin need to sag and be permanently wrinkled. The only starring role appropriate for my look is that of a Shar Pei.
I have a very beautiful and dear friend who hates shopping. As a matter of fact, she doesn’t even call her pursuit of new clothing shopping. She will report in her discouraged way: “I went out to try to buy something.” My friend is a slender, fit, and active woman who prefers soft sweatpants and loose flannel shirts. She, like so many of us gals, survived girdles, garter belts, underwire, mini-skirts, hip-huggers, and platform shoes. We were the generation that grew to womanhood watching older women burn their bras. Perhaps it was all of that Lycra on fire that led to the deterioration of the ozone layer and our minds, but we got the message. We’re all about comfort now. Bring back the moo moo!
But style shifts aren’t the issue. No, the real culprit in this fashion evolution is spandex. It has turned underwear into outwear. Spandex has spread faster than the coronavirus and infected everything we wear. It is like the COVID of cloth. We are being embalmed in our active wear. Please! Give me some distance, some breathing room.
I am amazed that some people who object to wearing a mask will stuff themselves into clothing made of 98% spandex. Folks who won’t take a life-saving vaccine consider better living through chemistry to be the laboratory-created fibers that stretch up to five times their original length. DuPont started cooking this stuff up back in the 1950s along with a stockpile of forever chemicals.
Does that mean leggings are here to stay? Maybe not. Things do change. After all, spandex was the replacement for rubber in girdles. A friend who was a flight attendant back in the 1960s tells me that even a stick-thin stewardess was required to wear a rubber girdle as part of the uniform. The only upside was that it protected her backside from being pinched by inappropriate male passengers. Today, if a man were to grab a woman’s spandexed bottom and release quickly, the woman would be rocketed into space without the wings. But as the commercials promise, spandex will hold its shape even when we don’t.
From my point of view, it’s not the leggings; it’s the spandex that is the real enemy of the people. No wonder folks are so miserable and full of complaint. We’re all clothed in fabric stretched too thin. Life has enough pressure, now our clothes are squeezing us too. I say, “Loosen up!” You don’t find the peace and love crowd wearing spandex. Jesus and his followers wore loose, flowing robes and comfortable sandals. Other holy men and women have followed suit.
The fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld has said, “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat,” a sign that you’ve lost control of your life. Sure, Karl, nothing says “I’m in control” like being bound with elastic and scheduled for labiaplasty. Going forward, I think I will take my fashion advice from the grand designer. I’m going with the Jesus-look. Fortunately, the one item of clothing I own that contains absolutely no spandex is my bathrobe. Depending on the wind speed, you may be seeing more of me.
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine suffered sudden heart failure while dining out at a local restaurant.
It happened just before the peanut butter pie was served.
In what can only be explained as divine intervention, a physician, a navy medic, and a retired cardiac-care nurse were also dining at separate tables in the restaurant. They came to my friend’s aid. In their frantic life-saving efforts, a couple of my friend’s ribs were broken. That was a small price to pay for restoring life to this happy, much-loved, vital woman just a few days short of her 45th birthday. My friend later learned that the restaurant patrons gathered in a circle to pray as the emergency squad drove her away to a nearby hospital. Everyone was shaken. And moved.
It is a powerful thing to watch life leave a person, and it is an equally powerful thing to recognize the awesome power in our hands to restore life, to feel the formidable responsibility for the ongoing existence of another human being, to see our hands as life-giving tools--a spark of the divine in each of us.
In this time of growing hatred in which too many people are preoccupied with sucking the life out of each other, it is inspiring to learn of a situation in which good hearts responded without hesitation to breathe life into a stranger. It did not matter my friend's political persuasions. All any one needed to know was that she was in trouble and every second mattered. It was a heart-to-heart decision. Humanity and decency prevailed.
When there is no one to mock us or create doubt in us, our good hearts are stirred to do the right thing because life matters--to us and to each other.
My friend received outstanding cardiac care at the hospital. Chalk one up for science! She is now the recipient of an implanted defibrillator that will provide electric current to power her good heart should it ever again go out of rhythm. I think we could all use a defibrillator to shock us now and then, restore our good hearts when they are out of whack. Plug us in. Bring back this transformative power to the people.
May the beat go on.