Yesterday morning the sidewalks around Valley Forge were busy with people out for a walk or a run. The walkers were of all sorts and conditions. Young and old, men and women, boys and girls, families, couples, solitaires, gangs of middle-aged brothers and sisters, posses of little kids, teenagers in love walking hand in hand, teenagers out of love walking with arms folded and solid walls of silence between them. Some were fit and trim walking with the purpose of getting fitter and trimmer. Most seemed to be out for the sake of being out, enjoying the scenery and each other's company.
The runners were of one sort and in perfect condition.
My first thought after the fifth blew by me was that they must represent a demographic fluke brought on by the holiday. I figured they were all the hostesses of this year's feast escaping for some necessary alone time before their day was swallowed up by cooking and entertaining and coincidences of planning and scheduling had forced them all out to the park for their daily run at the same time.
"I'm going out for an hour. You watch the kids and when the timer goes off, take the pie out of the oven and turn it down to three twenty-five and put in the turkey."
But then, after the seventh or eighth ran me off the path---each one giving off an air of simultaneous blindness to my presence and irritation at my getting in their way as if I was an obstacle they sensed rather than saw and they resented having to break stride to avoid tripping over whatever it was that had the temerity to occupy a part of the sidewalk they needed to occupy---it dawned on me that they were all alike in another way besides the fact that they were moving faster than everybody else.
Each and every one was a goddess.
I don't mean goddess as in sex goddess, like Marilyn Monroe or Rita Hayworth. I don't mean any ordinary centerfold or supermodel type of body beautiful.
Think of marble statuary.
Think of a Minerva or a Juno or a Diana, on an altar, within a temple.
As I said, they were all in their thirties. They were all handsome if not beautiful. They were all dressed alike. There were no track pants, no shorts, no baggy sweats. They all wore spandex tights and short, form-fitting jackets or long-sleeved t-shirts, so that their figures and legs were clearly defined down to the smallest muscle and dimple. None of them were greyhound thin. None of them carried an ounce of extra body fat. They were all perfect, like statues.
And like statues the effect of their perfection wasn't erotic in the least. It was cold, forbidding, rebuking.
To look upon one was to be inspired, not to lust or romance, but to duty, sacrifice, and penance. You felt called upon to give up dessert, go back to the gym, roll out of bed in the pre-dawn dark and start running yourself. And all these things you would do in a spirit mixing heroic determination and despair, intensely focused on improving in order to be worthy, already self-loathing and self-condemning because you'd know in your heart you don't have what it takes and will never be worthy of either their perfection or their notice.
Wouldn't matter if you were male or female, when you looked upon one of these goddesses you'd feel what Odysseus' men must have felt when they washed up on Circe's island, that you are not the hero or the heroine of this particular myth and she didn't even have to bother with the magic, you already know you're a mere pig.
All right, I'm romanticizing. But I'm not fantasizing. There are male versions of this type, but none of them were out yesterday morning. Older women run and so do girls, but while I suppose one or two might have been in her late twenties or early forties, it sure looked as if anyone who was under thirty-four or over thirty-eight had stayed home. And runners (like performance bonds) come in all shapes and sizes, not all of them look as though they were carved by Pygmalion on one of his more obsessive days, but all the other sizes and shapes, makes and models weren't running where I was walking.
The hour between eight and nine seemed to have been reserved for female deities in serious training for a new Judgment of Paris.
Just one of those things, I guess.
Back at the parking lot I did see some mortals getting ready to run. Two women and a man. The women were in their thirties and trim and attractive but in more human terms and dimensions, and they weren't wearing spandex. They were in nylon track pants and windbreakers. They were surrounded by kids and the man was helping the kids unload scooters and skateboards from their cars, a minivan and an SUV parked side by side. One of the women was unfolding a stroller, one of those three-wheeled, rocket-nosed strollers for parents who jog. The other woman, a tall blond who kept slapping at her hair to keep it from being blown across her face by the light but steady breeze, stood apart from the group, hollering into a cell phone.
"Where are you?" she demanded of the person on the other end. "Why aren't you here? Amy's here. She made it out with the kids. She even brought the baby. If she can bring the baby, you can bring you! Get over here!"
She was trying to sound jovial and teasing but there was a note of desperation in her voice too, as if the point of their all being out here was the company of the person she was talking to and the day would ruined if she---or he---blew them---her?---off.
There's one disadvantage to being a goddess. Goddesses don't need anybody's company but their own.