Jan and Karen Triathlon (2)

Most of what I know about not giving a shit I learned from my friend Karen. I don’t know what she’s learned from me, probably how one would color inside the lines should one be so disposed. Which she isn’t, so whatever I taught her has been useless in her life.

She says to me, “So what’s the down side?” Then she says to me, “That’s not really a big deal.” Then she says to me, “We need to go swimming.”

When we swim together, we swim side by side in the same lane. She always starts faster. She has a strong stroke but sometimes her kick drops a little. After several yards of being just behind her, I usually decide to go a lot faster so I can be first to the wall. I wear a swim fin so it isn’t really fair but it doesn’t matter to me, the competition still feels equal as if it’s right for me to have that extra edge. Beating her is irresistible. I don’t know why.  It makes me remember beating her in a 25 35 years ago when I was still smoking. No fin. Proud moment.

But I don’t always beat her. I have to have the fin and she has to be a little tired. And she has to keep that kick a bit too low. Any of those things change and she gets to the wall first and waves to me still coming on the way back. I try to look like I don’t give a shit. In my case, I’m pretending. In her case, it’s real.

Oh, she’s accomplished. She’s fought poverty and injustice in a dozen different ways. Organized things, events, people that everyone else thought were impossible. Quit a desk job to become a sheet metal worker because she wanted to be a woman in a tough place and belong to a union.  She has a ridiculous amount of grit.  There are things in our town that ought to be named after her.

But what I love about Karen is her telling me after hearing me talk about one problem or another, a new or old struggle,  something I think I should be afraid of or worried about, “Who really gives a fuck?” And when she says that, I ask the same question. I realize I’m an idiot for giving a fuck and that if I was really a tough cookie, a hard charger, someone like Karen, I really wouldn’t give a fuck.  And that is freeing and empowering at the same time.

A lot in my life has been changed for the better because of Karen teaching me the fine art of not giving a shit, of being one’s own person, day in and day out. And I’m talking about thirty-seven or so years of instruction. A very long time. Need I say more?

Thank you, old friend. And Happy Birthday.