“You’re really fighting the water there,” a woman said to me after I finished my practice swim today.
Yup. A one-woman war against the volume of a swimming pool. Not going so well.
“Try being one with the water–floating with it–instead of fighting it.”
It would have sounded too New-Age-meets-Bruce-Lee if I hadn’t seen her swim. Between bouts thrashing my way across the pool, coughing and gasping for air, I stopped and pressed myself against the concrete wall and watched her.
In her sixties, white-haired and petite, in a navy blue one-piece with spaghetti straps, she glided through the water as if it was her element. Her arms swung out of the water behind her. And then, like a ballet dancer, she arced her arms gracefully ahead of her. The fingertips slid in first, then the wrist, the elbow, the shoulder. Nice and easy. Smooth as could be. She made swimming look leisurely. Balletic. She kept her face low in the water, turning it effortlessly to breathe.
I admired her.
And I tried to slow down my strokes to match hers.
I felt like she was accompanying me. Trying to teach me through her presence alone. It didn’t have to be a panic-fest or a one-woman war. Work with the water, not against it. Calm rippled out from her liquid glide through the water.
Later, in the locker room, she explained. “I was lucky. I was a water baby. I took to it right away. But we’ve all been there.” She added. “We all had to learn some time.”
She gave me some pointers and then looked at my face, heard the softening uncertainty in my voice. The embarrassment, the fear, the frustration of learning to swim at 32.
She smiled. “You just focus on tightening your abs and your butt. And working with the water.”
I felt calmer already.
When I stopped at the front desk to buy my first swim card, the regular guy took my photo. “Hey,” I protested. “I didn’t know a picture was part of the deal. I look like a drowned rat.” And we laughed.
“You just keep practicing.” He said.
The arthritis that has brought me to the pool isn’t going away. But a lot of other things in my life–in my past–can be healed. And maybe this is all it takes. Facing the fears daily, rather than putting them off–onto other people, or in a box under my bed. Facing it, and having a safe community where it’s possible to face the wounds we all carry.
Connection and compassion from others, guidance from those who’ve been there, and a little courage.
Maybe that’s all it takes to begin healing.