Swimming has always been a major challenge for me. If there ever was an aquatic emergency, you wouldn’t want me jumping in to help. That would require the next rescuer to have to save two people.
For several summers in a row, my parents dropped me and my siblings off at the pool for lessons. I’m sure the expectation was, that when they came back to get us, they would be picking up trained dolphins, capable of thwarting sharks and detecting underwater mines.
Now, I would like to say that is what happened, but I would be lying.
It always began with the float.
The lifeguard / instructor spoke with a soothing and faint whisper,
“Just lay back and relax.
Fill your lungs with air.
Extend your arms and arch your back.”
Knowing what was about to happen, I looked around at everyone else to observe their technique.
The other kids lay motionless on the surface of the water, resting like giant lily pads on a serene summer lake. They were basking in the sunlight, just soaking up the warmth, without a care in the world.
As I eased my head back into the water as instructed, I began an immediate descent. Having zero body fat and a figure similar to a science class skeleton, I could not float.
The water enveloped me and I plummeted in a rapid descent, to the depths of the pool. It was as if Leviathan had me in its grips and was pulling me quickly, down to Davey Jones’ locker. (Said in a crusty pirate’s voice.)
Davey Jones Locker
Trying to hold my breath as I could see the light from the surface begin to diminish, my nostrils would always fill up with water. Having not been born with a set of gills, I would immediately start breathing in the water. Jumping up as fast as I could, I would then realize that I was still in the shallow end of the pool.
It always ended with the float.
Because I sank every time, the lifeguard float Nazi would not pass me to the next level.
My fear was realized and I was doomed to a life of swimming with life jackets and arm floaties.
Year after year as we got older I would watch my siblings use the diving board, splashing into the deep end with delight. They would frolic around in the advanced swimmers end of the pool, bobbing up and down so effortlessly. It was easy to see how much fun they were having down there, as a I dipped my feet into the toddler section of the pool.
After getting married, my wife informed me that her family took an annual vacation to what might be the deepest lake in North America. I believe that it is just about the depth of the Marianna Trench. She also informed me that I would be going every year.
The first year I went, she showed me all around the place. It was a neat little vacation spot. As we walked down to a lake and out onto a pier, panic seized me. The water was dark and cold, there were green things swaying around in there. As I became mesmerized by the sounds of the gentle waves and hypnotized by the slow ripples, I could hear the voices of the lake sirens calling me to slide in to my impending doom. I almost fell for it but quickly came to my senses and ran back to the cabin.
When the family went down to the lake, I would stay back and read. There was no way I was getting in that water. The lake floor was probably littered with the bodies of other non-swimmers who attempted to get in. Because my skin was the same tone as milk and I never came out of the cabin while the sun was out, my in-laws began to think that I was a vampire.
It was in my thirties that I recognized the familiar panic in my oldest daughters face. While playing in the pool, she lost her footing and she sank in backwards. She was fine but it freaked her out. I realized that if she was going to survive the summers at this lake, she would need swim lessons.
So we signed her up and as I watched her grow as a swimmer I realized that now might be a good time for me to try again. Seriously, it can’t be that hard, those Navy SEAL boys make it look so simple.
Watching and learning all the elementary lessons that I blocked from my memory, I re-familiarized myself with the pool. Now that I was older, it seemed as if I was strong enough to pull myself across the surface of the water.
Water still got in my nose and I floated like a chunk of granite, but I could make it across the pool without drowning. Thankfully my children can swim and float so they won’t be needing my assistance.
There are times and circumstances in life that can cause you to shy away from challenges. It’s easier to run and hide from your fears, but they will still be there waiting for you.
Think about what you could do next, if this one thing was out of your way.
It might take a while, it could take years or even an entire lifetime.
So, when the opportunity presents itself, seize it! Unless it’s water, you can’t seize water. In that case you just go with the flow.
Do I feel accomplished by conquering the water? Maybe.
An author friend of mine says you need to, “punch fear in the face.” This is great advice, except when you do this to the pool, you kind of look like a baby who has just discovered how to splash.
What fear do you need to splash, I mean punch in the face?