Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Deep thoughts, shallow water

Swimming, like riding a bike, seems to be one of those things the vast majority of people mastered before leaving elementary school. People like me, who never learned, are doomed to poolside reapplications of sunscreen, goggle-fetching and shouts of "Don't splash!" while everyone else flips and dives and has fun.

Like most adults who don't swim, I have had bad experiences with water that evoke a thrill of terror at the idea of submerging myself in liquid. Once I was pushed off a raft while floating on the river with some cousins and went under, the green water eerily silent. Somehow I managed to get my footing and splash my way to shore, where the grinning adults asked how I liked my swim.

During an ill-fated week of swimming lessons at the pool the following summer, I was the oldest in the beginner class by two years. Frustrated with my lack of cooperation, the teenage instructor tossed a kickboard my way and let me happily chug from one side of the shallow end to the other while she worked with the rest of the class on bobbing and floating. On the final day, with our parents peering from the bleachers, the instructor announced we would all be jumping into the deep end and lined us up at the side of the pool. The twelve at the bottom of the pool contorted and danced with the splashing water as, one by one, each of my classmates jumped into the water. Terrified, I sat down and clung to the edge. The annoyed instructor made a half-hearted attempt to reason with me, gave an eye roll and walked away. Thus ended my formal attempt at lessons, sobbing at the side of the pool while the parents on the bleachers murmured and gave me hard, disapproving looks.

But at thirty-three, I find myself doing a reverse Ariel. I'm tired of sitting on the side, dipping my feet in the water if I feel daring. Forget these legs. I want fins. I want to know what it feels like to float and splash and play without a hint of anxiety. I want to dive into that deep and and show that sobbing nine year old that she can do whatever she puts her mind to, at whatever pace she needs, that there's no shame in fear, only in what we allow that fear to do to us.

Armed with that mindset, I showed up at the local pool last night ready to learn, though still harboring some anxiety. An hour later I was goosebumpy (that water is cold!) and waterlogged, but confident that I will push past fear and become at least a passable swimmer, if not a proficient one.

I think Ariel would be proud.

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