When we last left our heroine (that would be me), she was realizing that despite everything she thought or felt, she actually floats. But what we also know, even if she can’t remember it just yet, is that she is far more resilient than that… she actually swims.
And I do…
I swim. I swim a lot. Both physically and metaphorically I have swam for a very long time… both barely, and well. As I sit here thinking about my life in the water, the story of both become so much clearer… and are so telling, as well as appropriate, for where I find myself just now.
Like many children, hot summer days were spent at the local pool… being tortured by my elder siblings… primarily my brother. His idea of fun was “teaching me to swim” by having me kick while I hung onto his hands until he took me out beyond where I could stand up and promptly let go of me…. laughing as I panicked and sputtered, sucking in water and made my way gasping back to the shallow end to get my head above water and air.
Eventually, at six or seven, I was old enough for real swimming lessons. (This was long before they realized that babies are natural born swimmers.) I was so excited, thrilled to be learning something new, eager to shrug off my brother’s “help.” And I swam… I swam what seemed like the entire summer. (In reality, it was probably only a few weeks.) The final day of swimming lessons was upon me and I was already thinking about going on to the next level… all I had to do was pass the test. I was one of the strongest swimmers in the class and I loved being in the water, so it was just a formality as far as I was concerned.
But it wasn’t, I failed a part of the test. I was told that I couldn’t swim. That I would have to repeat the entire class if I ever wanted to go to the next level. How could that be? I was a good swimmer and I knew it. What went wrong? What happened? How could I go from one of the best, to the absolute worst? How could I be so wrong? It was many, many years of believing what I’d been told… that I couldn’t swim… before I was able to make sense of it all and learn what has been possibly one of the most profound lessons of my life.
Flash forward to my first semester in college. I started in summer school because I’ve always been one to jump into the deep end. (No, the irony is not lost on me at all.) I’d taken a year off after my tumultuous high school career to contemplate life…. As much as that is possible at the ripe old age of 18. Luckily, I’d realized that a higher education was the only way I would even have a shot at the life I dreamed of living. And with this realization came a drive to concur those things that scared me, or that I thought I couldn’t do. For my P.E. credit that summer, I signed up for swimming… this time I would really learn how to do it!
As luck would have it, work was being done on the indoor pool and the class was relegated to the outdoor pool across campus. The teacher was a tri-athlete, back when few knew what that was and none of them were of the “weekend warrior” variety… so he pushed us. Quickly, again, in spite of what I believed, I proved to be one of the strongest and fastest swimmers in the class. We swam every day, lap after lap, tan lines deepening with every stroke. I came to realize that I really could swim all along, and I wondered again how I could be so wrong? How had I come to hold myself back so much, for so long, with this limiting belief?
I had limited my time in the water all those years in between… afraid of drowning because, you know, I couldn’t swim. I’d been the “manager” of the swim team in junior high school, with all of the early morning and late-night practices, the swim meets, the trophies, the letters… but I never got in the water because, you know, I couldn’t swim. The list of ways I limited myself with that belief, forced upon me by someone else, is too long to mention. But it ended that summer.
Some years later all pieces clearly presented themselves to me and I got a full picture of how it had all gone so wrong. In the year prior to that first swimming lesson I had been fitted (read “saddled”) with my first pair of glasses. Dark, thick, horn-rimmed glasses. Part of the joy of swimming was being free of those things for a while. One day, so many years later, as I was leisurely backstroking across a pool I had a flash of a memory…
I’d been being tested on how well I could backstroke in a straight line. I knew exactly what to do. Pick a landmark, focus on it, and keep yourself lined up to it. Which is exactly what I’d done… until my landmark had gotten too far away and too blurry to do me any good… I veered off course.
Without my glasses, I never stood a chance. It wasn’t that I couldn’t swim, it was that I couldn’t see.
That was what seems like several lifetimes ago. I have since learned to surf, scuba dive, windsurf, waterski, parasail, jet ski, become a divemaster (which includes being a rescue diver), done underwater photography and video, cliff diving, kayaking… just to name a few. And I still look at things that “don’t quite work out” the same… what am I missing? What do I not see that could make all the difference? I no longer let others be the deciding voice of what I am capable of… that is up to me.
I bring all of this up because last summer I returned to swimming regularly… at a time when I needed the reminder of these lessons. And I swam to release all of the blocked emotions that had settled on my body as heaviness and weight. And I swam to feel what it was like to be challenged again. And I swam to release the thoughts rattling around in my head. And I swam to feel the hot sun on my skin. And I swam to ground myself in the Zen-like rhythmic repetition that is swimming.
After a long, cold, incredibly difficult, and painful winter, I am swimming again… even before it was (is?) really warm enough to swim. I swim because I did not sink, I did not drown… even when I most wanted to.
And I swim because the lane lines on the bottom guide me and tell me when to turn even when nothing else in my life does. And I swim because you can’t cry underwater. And I swim to watch the sunlight dance across the bottom. And I swim to remember to breathe in and out. And I swim to feel the sun on my skin and the numbness in my toes. And I swim to feel the lineage to my long since passed father. And I swim for the structure that I swear that I hate, even though it saves me. And I swim because right now, I don’t quite know what else to do. And I swim because I recently made it to doing 100 laps 5 or 6 days a week. And I swim to remember that I don’t know when the pieces will fall together, but they will. And I swim…