Life as a Fish

I started my life as a fish at age 3. My early exposure to the aquatic world came because of the family heritage of fear, which my mother did not want to pass along to her own children. The only thing I remember about swimming lessons is sitting on the side of the pool and wishing the lady would let me get in the water already. I knew I would not hesitate, or panic as my older brother did when they threw him off the diving board. I was three years younger, and had the advantage of a child who knows no fear because of lack of experience. Once I jumped in, I never looked back.
By the age of six, I was swimming competitively, not so much for the race, but because the swim team kids got to get in the pool an hour or two before it opened for everyone else. Granted it meant that I had to swim what felt like hundreds of laps, but I didn’t mind, because I was in the water. Our suits were blue and white striped, so my tan was striped as well. No matter that there were two families of girls in our neighborhood who had state ranked swimmers my age. It was not about the competition for me, as much as being a part of a team and having fun. Sitting with my bangs pulled on the top of my head in a fountain of hair made me a part of the club. I looked like a whale blowing water out its blow hole…we all did. That was the beauty of it. I don’t think I was ever in a race that counted, the state girls swam all of the important ones. However, my index finger, green from eating lime jello right out of the box for “energy,” still pointed down the lane when I made my racing dive. My heart still surged with adrenaline when the gun fired and I lifted myself into the air like a rocket to plunge into the water. I swam with all my heart and the speed of a jet plane…or so I thought. I just couldn’t figure out how there were jet planes so much faster than me. I was rarely last, but I didn’t win too many races either. However, in my mind my race was only a few seconds out of the whole meet. It was just enough to interrupt my card game with my friends, and so once I was out of the water the race was forgotten and the poker continued.
I kept swimming into high school. Everyday. All summer. I was at the pool from the time it opened until it closed. Working the concession stand producing all kinds of drinks by mixing soda flavors in senseless combinations was my hobby. I consumed more Lemonheads and Skittles than regular food. I tanned like I had been born in Hawaii or some other tropical place. My fingers pruned, and my hair lightened to a greenish chestnut that felt like straw. My eyes were permanently red. (no goggles for me) I eventually found that I preferred tanning to swimming laps for hours, and my swim team days ended. However, my broad shoulders and incredible frog stretch followed me into adulthood, as did my love of the water.
Yesterday, thanks to my leg injury, I started swimming again at a tiny little nearby pool. The smell of chlorine always brings memories with it. How could it not? As I pushed off the wall, I remembered the feeling of gliding through the water, the steady strokes, and the tickle of the bubbles blowing past my face. I forced myself into the legless drills we used to do to strengthen my stroke. I practiced my pyramids, only the pool was too short to count them. I did every stroke like the ones I used to in the IM, and treaded water for 15 minutes. (Hard to do in five feet of water) All of it came back to me, like riding a bike.
The most important thing I remembered is the solitude of swimming. Like hiking, it gives me time to ponder. The rhythm of the stroke and the breathing lulls my mind into thinking mode. I only wish the pool was longer so I didn’t have to interrupt the flow to make my turns.
My great insight from yesterday? You swim your own race. No one else can swim it for you. I know this is a simple thought, but hang with me for a minute. When you are at a meet, the noise level is overwhelming, but as you hit the water all goes silent. Except for your breathing and strokes, you hear nothing. It is the rhythm that carries you through the race. When you turn your head to breathe or come up for a breath, the noise rushes in with the oxygen. The blast can either give you a surge, or it can undo your concentration. The really good swimmers know how to use the solitude and the clamor in harmony. They can pace themselves, while they are urging themselves on. It is the fine balance of a champion swimmer.
The metaphor for life is obvious. No one can develop the balance for your existence but you. The constant rhythm of life flows by in your daily activities. Consistent, constant, intentional, forward movement. Breathe in. Breathe out. Stroke. Stroke. Breathe. Stroke. Stroke. Breathe. The strokes I take are my effort; the breath I breathe is God’s. When the outside noise around you becomes inordinate, you are the one who decides if it will slow you down, or speed you up. You are the one who chooses the outcome by your reaction to the noise. A recreational swimmer will forget to breathe, or change the breathing rhythm when confronted with outside distractions. The stroke will shorten and change the patterns, this causes panic which in turn, shortens the breathing further. By the end of the race, there is no energy left and fear of sinking takes control. The race is lost. A focused swimmer knows to concentrate on the breathing, no matter what comes along, no matter the noise. Is it easy to do? Nope. Not in swimming or in life. It takes practice, but the solitude of the practice laps is where the race is won. My favorite thing to do in the water is to float on my back. All is still and quiet. I can only hear my breathing. In. Out. God is not only as close as my breath, he IS my breath. I can feel him flow into me. The breath is the key. Just breathe.

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