The Tai Chi teacher wears a long-sleeved light blue athletic shirt tucked into black yoga pants. She wears black leather shoes that look like something a very athletic ballet dancer would wear, a pair to cushion landings from great heights. She is sure-footed, each turn of her foot completely intentional. She trusts her shoes to keep her in the right place. I envy her shoes.
Her hair is parted in the middle and gathered in a low ponytail. She is so purposely plain, she is adorned with her own confidence, her comfortableness with all the parts of her body. She knows where each hand is and should be, her knee aligns perfectly behind the other. She bends her leg with her toe on the floor to tell those of us teetering that it is alright to do half-measure, she says without saying that intent has value.
The Tai Chi room is very hot. A four-foot wide fan in the community center hallway blows in the other direction. Its job is to circulate air, not to keep us cool. We look at it often as if our yearning will cause it to pivot and blow our hair dry, stop the sweat trickling down our backs. The teacher recognizes the heat. She waves her hands in front of her face and says, “it’s hot.” But she herself doesn’t look hot. She looks as if it could be winter outside, as if we had piled our parkas by the door next to snowy boots swapped for our own personal version of Tai Chi shoes. Mine are socks.
The teacher tells us ‘one more time’ time after time. She shows us again and again how to hold our wrists, first this way, then that, and then how to open our fists to full flower. She starts from the middle sometimes but then from the beginning, standing first in front and then running lightly to the side, then the back of the room so we can see her. She waits for us to remember the sequence on our own but we have to look. We want to be like her but we can’t do it on our own.
A woman leaves the classroom, wiping her face on her shirt. She picks up her shoes and goes to stand by the fan in the hallway. Then the man leaves. His face is red and wet. I leave to go to the bathroom where I run cold water on my wrists and then walk back past the lunchroom where a dozen white-haired people are playing cards, their walkers lined up against the wall. When did I start coming to a place where we are all old? I think about it but with no regret. They welcome me here and go slow. Half measures and good intent suffice.
At the end of the class, I take my shoes and go to the hallway where the big fan is blowing. I lace up my shoes, thinking that next time I should wear something more fitting, do more to be like the teacher. A man from the community center talks to the teacher, pointing to the wall of band instruments covered with tarps next to the wall. She walks to where he is pointing, then looks up and smiles. She lifts a fan from behind a drum set and walks across the room to the outlet. The next class will have a fan.
I shrug at her. It doesn’t matter that we were hot and the next students will be cool. The sweating is already done and gone and I’m the better for it.