Learning to Swim

In January I had my first swimming lesson in 45 years. As I panted by the edge of the pool after doing a few laps, my swim teacher kneeled down beside me,

“Actually sir, that’s not too bad.”

I took this as high praise.  Whatever good and bad swim habits I had remembered from my last swim lessons at Boy Scout camp, it had served me well enough to come down to “not too bad” 45 years later.

Of course, there were also things like “Point your toes” and “Keep kicking – kicking – your feet – keep kicking your feet.  And “Yes, kicking even when you turn to breathe.  Don’t stop.”

There was something about not bending my wrists but bending my elbows and my hands catching almost at the same time.  There was something about turning and no, not just from my hips but with my whole body.  There were a lot of other things I don’t remember.  For the past 6 months I’ve been practicing, two three times a week, practicing learning to swim.

A couple of months ago I asked the lifeguard at the Y about the bright blue kickboards and the black plastic pieces with red loops, the blue and white little foam pads and flippers that I had seen some swimmers using.  I wondered if these things could help me swim.

“I don’t know how to use any of those things,” I told him.

“You should come to the Master Swim class on Wednesday night.  I’m going to try it out myself,” he replied.

It gave me encouragement that the lifeguard was still learning how to swim too.

So I got brave and went that next night to the Master Swim class wondering what I was doing there as I was no “master swimmer.”  I discovered a couple of others there who weren’t “master swimmers” either.  They too were learning how to swim.

I started out in the beginner lane.  Others have graduated from there to other lanes where swimmers swim twice the laps we do in half the time.  In the beginner lane we actually don’t worry too much about how fast we’re going because like me, we don’t have any “faster” speed to go.  Often times, Adam, a 20 year old exuberant injured runner is the only other swimmer in the beginner lane with me and within 4 or 5 laps he’s passed me one more time.

A couple of weeks ago, the lifeguard stood by the edge of the pool and stopped me at the end of the lane.

“Sir, you have to stop! I am demanding that you stop right now and rest!”

He turned to go, turned back, “One minute!  You have to rest one minute here by the edge of the pool!  This is hard work you’re doing.”

I figured he didn’t want to get wet having to come in and rescue me.  I waited my minute, felt better and did a couple more laps before staggering to the showers.

Last night, the Master Swim class coach, Caroline kneeled down by the edge of the pool as I rested after being lapped one more time by Adam who was swimming on ahead.

“How are my arms?  Am I doing my arms right?  I’ve been practicing,” I told her.

She smiled, paused.  “A little bit….It takes a lot of time 3, 6 weeks to master something new with a stroke.”

I thought, I’ve been practicing for 6 months….

“Hey, when’s your race?  August?” she asked.

“Yes.” I said.

“I think you’re going to be alright.”

And right there in the pool I could have cried in the wet exhaustion of it all.

No, not that “You are going to win the race,” but also not that “You can’t do this.”

Instead, “I think you’re going to be alright.”

Yesterday I received the email that the race my sister and I were going to do in New Hampshire this August was cancelled.  For sure there are other races, and a shorter race we can do that day.  But I had been learning to swim for this race these past six months.

And amidst it all, I haven’t been able to get Caroline’s words out of my mind.

What if even though the race is cancelled, “I think you’re going to be alright.”

What if even though what we hoped for didn’t happen, what we wanted so badly we didn’t achieve, what if when we floundered and couldn’t remember our head from our toes and why we were supposed to, we also heard Caroline kneeling down by the edge of the pool, looking us in the eye,  “I think you’re going to be alright.”

What if whatever is happening in your life right now and mine, wherever we are in this journey of life and death and everything in between, “I think you’re going to be alright.”

As for this panting swimmer, still learning to swim, I hold on to the slippery tiles at the edge of the pool, push off one more time.  Believing once again, no matter what.

3 thoughts on “Learning to Swim”

  1. Nice to hear, after a diagnosis of squamous cell skin cancer yesterday. The doctor said they got it all with the biopsy of the small lump but still, those words “I think you’re going to be alright,” are a balm to the spirit. Thanks Peter.


  2. Peter, thanks for looking deeply into a simple assurance that you will, “be alright.” You wrote a a great reminder for us to listen closely and listen deeply.


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