When I was seven or maybe eight, summer vacation was freedom. I would be free of classes, sitting, listening to a teacher, reading from a book, studying a blackboard. I would be free from test-taking anxiety and fear of maybe failing them. Having nothing required of me that would elicit emotional responses was my definition of a summer vacation.
Until I had to take swimming lessons.
“C’mon we’re going to the country club to start your lessons,” my mother said waving her arm to hurry my pace. Until then, I saw the country club where I could have a kiddie cocktail, fancy cold shrimp hooked over a short glass, and an ice cream sundae encased in a chocolate shell. The country club was no longer a special place, but a place to be avoided.
Most would think kids that age would be eager to dive into a classroom of chlorinated water. But for me, this was one classroom I feared. I didn’t want to learn how to swim; I was afraid of water. Water had no boundaries but I reasoned as long as my toes could skim the rough cement of the pool’s bottom and my hands could slide along the stainless steel rails, I was safe. I could feel the pool’s boundaries.
Lesson day Saturday morning was in full color and motion and Mom and I arrived early at the club’s swimming pool. “Okay, go ahead, you can take off your robe,” she said, pulling a pair of lounge chairs together to set up a base camp. Standing exposed, and clothed in fear of what I would soon be asked, I shook from the early morning chill, wishing the sun to quickly awaken and to melt my goose bumps away. I needed the sun to wrap me in comfort.
While waiting for my instructor, I sat at the pool’s edge with my feet dangling in sparkling water in a color that matched the sky. A visual chant of dancing ripples was mesmerizing as I welcomed the flirtation inching toward me. The sparkling water’s invitation to join her enchanted me.
My stare deeper into the bottomless pool became hypnotic; I lost my sense of place. I believed I could see a depth far greater than it truly was.
The quickly rising sun wrapped my shoulders in warmth encouraging a trance-like state. I inched closer to the edge. I succumbed. I was under water.
The gurgling in my water-filled ears was relentless. I was a buoy, bobbing and twirling. Was I near the surface or at the bottom? I remembered the nuns at school teaching me that a conversation with God was as important to my education as was getting good grades. “Pray to God, evoke him in daily prayer, and you’ll be closer to him. Trust in him and you won’t need to fear anything,” Sister Benedicta said. I believed her. Her authoritarian tone was just as buttoned-up as were her commanding words. While chasing the light like a beacon guiding me to the water’s surface, I prayed. “Help, come get me God, which way do I go? Please show me the way.” That’s when I found light. Or did the light find me?
I fanned my arms and kicked my legs with eyes wide open. A force grabbed me in the air and I landed on dry cement. Brightness from the sun’s reflection off white cement made my eyes shut as I recalled visions of where I was while swaying as if still floating. My savior wrapped me in a towel and rushed me to the arms of my unsuspecting mother.
I wonder today how I went from being fearful to be being fearless? Why was I first fearful of the water and then after staring into the bottomless pool I was fearless? Was it divine interception, my shout-out to God, that stopped me from a bad outcome? Perhaps my call to God in prayer guided me to the water’s surface. But then maybe my uncontrollable thrashing and wave-making caught the lifeguard’s attention.
What I do know is when I let go of my fear while sitting on the edge, I trusted that everything would be just fine.
Letting go of our fears and opening our eyes can take us to places we would otherwise have never been.
Today, I am unsure of how I ended up in the water from sitting at the pool’s edge. But I realize that sometimes when you feel as if you are lost, spinning, fearful of where you are, open your eyes, trust, and you will eventually find the safety of the surface.
Sometimes we have to let go and follow the light.