Swimming in deep water

Dierkes Lake has an area set aside for swimmers. The shallow area is cordoned off by an orange mesh fence, while the deep water is edged by a long dock. One can walked the dock perimeter of the swimming area without ever getting wet. This presumes that one wears shoes. Otherwise one will walk about halfway around the dock, realize that the sun-baked dock is quite hot, and then stop to cool one’s feet in the water. The focal point of the swimming area is the floating dock. The only way to get there is to become fully immersed and swim. (Or have an inflatable boat, which we were sadly lacking that day.)

Kiki and I went to the dock early. Link took a little longer to find his courage. The swim was not really far, 15-20 yards. But the greenness of the water, and the unknown depths made him cautious. I swam alongside him for his first trek. Patch looked at the dock and knew it was beyond his skill. He happily spent the day in the shallows. Gleek really wanted to be on the dock. She demonstrated her strokes for me and for the lifeguard. We agreed that she could go if I swam with her.

She began strong. The distance was not too far for her, but her awareness of the deep water distracted her. She did not swim efficiently. Her limbs tired too quickly. My words of encouragement did not help her to stroke calmly or surely. I offered to let her put a hand on my shoulder for a moment. The hand clutched my shoulder and she leaned upon me, sinking me deeper in the water. My limbs redoubled their efforts, striving to get both of us to the dock, but her weight threw me off balance. I swallowed water, suddenly aware of the depths below and of how easily a panicked swimmer can drown a rescuer. There is a reason that lifeguards use flotation devices for rescue. Gleek was anxious but not panicked. I remained calm, so sputtering and tired we made it to the dock. Both of us were very aware of how badly things could have gone, and grateful that they didn’t. When the time came to get Gleek back to shore, I borrowed an inflatable toy to tow her to shore.

Of late much of my life has felt very similar to that moment in the water with Gleek. It takes all my energy to keep me afloat, but then Howard is having an especially rough day and so I lend him my shoulder. Or sometimes it is the other way around and Howard lends his shoulder to me. We cling to each other and keep swimming, trying to reach a place where we can rest a little bit. Even as we swim we know that we did it to ourselves. We are the ones who scheduled so many things in our lives. We are the ones who set the goal and set out on the journey. That knowledge doesn’t help much when we’re trying to keep our heads above water. I think we’re just a hair’s breadth from the dock. I can almost touch it and begin to catch my breath.

Not every day in the last few months has felt like almost drowning, but far too many have. It is a small comfort to me to look back and realize that I really could not have changed any of it without giving up something that matters to me. Sometimes you just have to make a hard swim to get where you want to be. But once you’ve reached the dock, you make plans that next time you’ll remember to bring the boat. And so I’m going to try to plan differently for next year. But I do so knowing that this was not how I’d planned this year to go and it happened anyway.

The thing is, we all had a great time swimming at the lake. Gleek loved being on the floating dock and she loved getting to ride back to shore. I’m not at all sorry about a bit of it. Even a hard swim can be a good thing.