Claiming Your Passion with a Slow Embrace
Reflections on Alacrity, Bathing Suits, and Anne Lamott
Sometimes when we claim our passions, the best we can manage is a slow embrace.
In April, a woman came up to me during the cocktail hour, after I presented my workshop, Claiming Your Passion . . . Despite a Hearing Loss, at the Canadian Hard of Hearing National Conference in Toronto. “I didn’t feel comfortable sharing this out loud at the workshop,” she said. “I wanted to let you know my passion is swimming.” Her smile quickened.
“Oh, swimming,” I exclaimed. I imagined her cutting through a lap pool, the lane lines bobbing, pinpricks of sunlight glistening on the water’s surface.
But then she shook her head. “I’m embarrassed the way I look in a bathing suit. So I’ve decided to lose a few pounds first. As soon as I get home, I’m going to sign up for Weight Watchers!” Her voice was threaded with excitement.
Was she overweight? I glanced down at her body, and she looked fine. Perhaps she wanted to lose a few pounds to look model-thin. Yet once she started swimming laps, those few pounds might melt off. I wanted to urge her: Don’t set up a barrier to claiming your passion!
I said, “You look great! But if you feel uncomfortable, can you go to a pool where no one knows you?”
The happy light in her eyes flicked off. “I live in a small town,” she said. “There’s only one pool.”
I realized immediately I had said the wrong thing. A little voice inside me chided, you are making this conversation about you, not her.
My passion for the piano creates bliss and purpose in my life, as passions do. Yet as I stood talking to this woman at the cocktail party, I was conscious that during the nine years that had elapsed since I had reclaimed the piano, I sometimes had practiced sporadically. All the while, a voice inside had been crying out to me to spend more time on the piano. During this almost-decade, my responsibilities as a mother and my work as a writer had created real obstacles, yet deep down I knew my ambivalence was the real issue.
During the summer of my 16th birthday, family and financial pressures forced me to quit the piano. Instead of confronting the truth of what had happened, I told myself I had quit the piano because I had no talent. Piano lessons would be a waste of time and money, so I shouldn’t bother. With my hearing loss, I would never be a concert pianist.
That evening at the CHHA conference, my conversation with the lovely woman with a passion for swimming turned to our hearing losses. I was startled to learn that she is profoundly deaf. She wears hearing aids, which gave her the cadence of people’s voices, but she mainly relies on speech-reading.
“All of this time, you’ve been reading my lips?” I said.
She nodded proudly. “I always recommend to people that they learn how to speech-read before their hearing gets too bad. It’s much easier that way.”
To speech-read with such facility, I knew, took hard work and perseverance. I was awed by her accomplishment. Here was a woman with a profound hearing loss who had reached a pinnacle of communication, yet she didn’t feel comfortable in her bathing suit.
There’s a famous quote on the topic of bathing suits from the inspirational writer Anne Lamott, from her memoir, Bird by Bird: “Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and . . . you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy. . . . It’s going to break your heart.” Anne Lamott is right, and yet there’s a question of timing, of how rapidly we dive into our passions.
Not all of us have the alacrity to jump off the side of the pool. We have histories, experiences, that make even locating our bathing suits difficult. Sometimes the best we can manage when claiming our passions is to hold onto the rail, to ease into the pool step by step. Only then we can claim the water’s exhilarating shock.