Heading out

Your shins bear bruises and a few gory notches. Dents in the flesh from moments you cannot recall. If you played soccer or field hockey you could blame it on that and feel proud. You could also avoid the label “old fool.” But no. Fool through-and-through, you think, running water for a cold shower.

You’ve survived again. You scrub a scuffed knuckle, scour bloody grease from the creases of your right palm. You’re okay. A slip of endorphins. A sense of maybe success. Danger avoided. A wrong-fun, for you. Confidence. Thanks to a wild form of discipline and some luck. You’ve gotten away with something. And maybe you’ve said something. Because out there people have shouted at you. Your neighbors have grinned and some have cheered a gray-haired person doing a silly kid-thing.

It’s true that almost every time walking out the door with the board trips an inner alarm. You’re a parent. You have big things to handle. It would be better to go jogging or buy a rowing machine or jump some rope. But here you are, telling yourself to go. To roll is okay. You’ll be okay. You’ll be careful. You will not end up quite hurt and require help from strangers to call a casual ambulance to save you, a silly person who did a silly thing. Or maybe you will.

The knees and ankles get some ice and an hour later the looseness is spreading, relaxing small knots of tension you didn’t know were hiding in you. Your thoughts are already reaching out to a next time. As soon as possible. More simple gestures against gravity and pain, freeing something by defeating each fear. Making a trick. Falling, too, of course. But a fall is a memory. Defeating it later is imperative, if only to get beyond, into things that did not seem possible a few weeks earlier. The sheer surprise at landing something new hints at surprise in wait all around you. Rising up from the streets and sidewalk. Silly? Maybe. But yours. And you are perhaps no longer ashamed to say this is somehow setting part of your heart free. While quieting the ego with a quickness.

Beyond that, watching other people’s attempts is cause to celebrate small things few people will ever see. The thought has arisen: some form of this can be for nearly everyone. A form you choose. From form, style, expression. At this age, there is nothing cool about it. So why do it? It’s fun. It’s like nothing else. But also all that death during the pandemic showed that the walls inside were echoing the streets outside: We are not as safe, nor as limited, as we so often tell ourselves. It is worth risking. So here it is, an old hobby resurrected in an older body, shifting shape and meaning after three decades away.

It likely won’t last long, this crisis of sorts. Injury or fear will end it. So for now you roll. And one afternoon some small part of the mystery makes itself clear. But it doesn’t come from within. You skate alone down 50th Street and pass a family getting into their car. A little girl no more than four sees you and shouts, “Skateboard!” Her voice is a mix of pride at knowing what she’s seeing, surprise at seeing a real person on a real skateboard on her street, and desire for her family to see it, too, to witness this unexpected thing she’s excited to see. She didn’t say, “He’s skateboarding!” or, “Hey, that person is on a skateboard!” Just one word, while pointing, straightening her spine and using all her voice to tell the people she loved, “Skateboard! Skateboard!”