On ice-skating and purpose.


In Zadie Smith’s novel ‘On Beauty’ there is a passage that returns to me often, when I am striding through the park to my desk perhaps, placing one foot solidly in front of the other – when I’m curled up in bed as dawn crawls through the cracks in the heavy curtains – as I write with ink-stained fingertips, speak German over the telephone, dance joyfully with my sister, feel my heart heavy with the weight of disappointment.

“When we become truly human, fully ourselves, beautiful. To swim when your body is made for swimming. To kneel when you feel humble. To drink when you feel thirsty…The idea of fittingness: that is, when your chosen pursuit and your ability to achieve it are matched exactly, are fitting.” (Zadie Smith)

Those words skimmed the surface of my consciousness as I laced my ice-skates last weekend, and the weekend before that. They are the same boots I have worn for over a decade, bought in a fuss and a hurry in a German department store one frosty winter noon. They are worn now and scuffed around the ankles, but the gleaming blades are still good as new. Astonishingly, they still fit my 22-year-old feet as well as they did my 11-year-old ones. Fit for their purpose. Fitting.

I never feel more myself than when I am on the ice. In daily life I am prone to make myself feel inadequate – to second-guess and doubt, to worry I am not good enough or simply not. enough. But on the ice I am transported away to a land of magic and Europe, a world forged in stories I read in childhood about skating across the canals of Amsterdam – changed as soon as I step onto the rink. On the ice I am fully myself. Fit for my purpose. Beautiful.

To skate when your body is made for skating. One foot in front of the other, and my legs sing and strain and feel. My toes curl, my hair sits atop my head and my spine bends and weaves and unbraids itself, ferrying me around the glittering lake in a way that feels effortless. My cheeks turn pink in the cold and my entire being feels poised on the edge of something wonderful, a fizzing sense of anticipation floods through my veins – a sense of contentment that sometimes eludes me in life. One foot in front of the other. Fulfilling my purpose.

Strange, is it not, that I feel steadier on a slippery sheet of ice than I do walking down the street? Strange that I feel so at home on a surface that has been known to invoke so much fear and instability in others. I think, what it comes down to is, is this idea of fittingness, of using your body for what it is made for – moving – and doing so well. To the very best of your ability.  I have not fallen in years. In fact, I do not remember ever falling on the ice.

I fall often in life. I trip down imaginary stairs, lose my footing on solid ground, slip on the steadiest concrete. But, on ice, I feel graceful, almost balletic – and I have confidence. I will not fall.

As I skated these past two weekends, one foot in front of the other, it came to me – the sense that on the ice, I am my best self, the self that so often eludes me on the ground. I am contented – a syrupy sweet feeling trickling through my limbs, a sense that I am vigorous and satiated, that if I could find it within me to transport my ice-skating self onto land I could conquer anything that comes my way.

One foot in front of the other, and I have confidence. I will not fall.

My resolution this year is to channel my ice-skating persona both on & off the ice – to love my life as much as I do when I am skating around an ice-rink with the faces I so love, and a sparkling Christmas tree in the distance. To lace my everyday shoes with the same self-confidence & joy I do my shabby old ice-skates. On Saturday, in the heart of the city, skating around the rink with a flock of women I have known since almost-childhood, I felt home. Fitting, fitted. True to my purpose. A good thing to remember, I think – that we are most ourselves when we fulfil our purpose. At home – and beautiful. 

P.S. My one day husband-to-be, take me ice-skating, won’t you? I think I shall woo you on the ice. Thanks!