Swimming in the Shallow Side of Life

I shall never forget that fateful day when I had just turned 7 years old and my adoptive mother informed me that it was time for me to begin swimming lessons at the local YMCA, I had never been more excited about anything in my entire life! Sharing the awesome news of my impending swimming lessons with all of my second-grade friends, made me feel blessed and empowered… after all; learning how to swim was the next right of passage for a kid that age, right after having learned to ride a bicycle without training wheels!

I remember having trouble going to sleep the night before my swimming lessons were about to begin, the excitement was nearly too much to bare.  I lay in my twin sized bed, nestled comfortably beneath my favorite Batman and Robin sheets, pulling the matching comforter up to my chin and simply staring at the ceiling, picturing all that was to transpire that next day. I envisioned the swimming pool at the YMCA with its beautiful blue water, the many cordoned lanes each separated by white floating objects that resembled a string of footballs to my 7-year-old perception, and I dreamed!  I dreamed of how I would enter the pool area from the boy’s locker room with all the other future Olympians, each certain that he would be the next world renown swimmer to emerge from these 8 weeks of lessons we were about to embark upon.  I stared at my bedroom ceiling and watched myself as I strolled casually past the low diving board and headed with the utmost confidence to the majestic, most wonderful place in the pool area…the 8-foot-high diving board!  I imagined staring from the base of the diving board stairs upward towards the board which looked to reach a million miles skyward.   I imagined as I climbed the many stairs towards the platform of the diving board, the many stares of envy I would receive from my nervous yet impressed peers.  Each child in attendance as well as the parents viewing from the windowed balcony adjacent to where I would be diving from, would each be filled with wonderment and awe as I found my way down the length of the diving board and effortlessly executed a perfect triple somersault high dive!  As my eyelids began to become heavy and I finally began to drift towards sleep…I smiled knowing that tomorrow I would begin my journey of becoming one of the greatest swimmers in history!

The excitement that next afternoon within the boy’s locker room at the YMCA was palpable!  I donned my new Navy-Blue swim trunks, grabbed my towel and followed my fellow classmates into the pool area where our class would commence.  Our swim instructor; Mr. Winters, instructed us to all line up along the wall as he began to point at a row of ominous looking signs, each depicting some horrible fate that awaited each of us should we fall prey to “horseplay”, “running”, “shoving”, or the ultimate crime…” peeing” in the pool!  As we were arranged along the edge of the pool now by height, from the tallest boy to the shortest, it was not until I was the last boy standing that I realized that I was the smallest of all the 12 boys in the class.  Mr. Winters entered the pool first via the shallow end and stood in the water directly in front of the tallest boy and instructed him to simply jump in, and walk over to where he stood, the giant of a 7-year-old did just that, and grinned from ear-to-ear the entire time.  As I stood and watched the next 10 boys follow the example of Goliath, I realized that I was next in line to jump…and I began to panic!  Suddenly my visions from the night prior begin to feel as if I had been dreaming someone else’s journey, imagining someone else’s legacy, and then out of nowhere…I began to cry.  My legs began to shake, and I covered my face with my hands as I screamed; “I can’t…I can’t, I’ll drown!”  I could feel the other boys as they stared up at me from the shallow waters of the pool, I could feel their judgments, I could feel them silently laughing at me, the kid who feared jumping in the shallow side of the pool.

Thanks to Mr. Winters taking the extra time to come over, get out of the pool and sit with me along the side, encouraging me to simply allow my feet and legs to dangle in the water, “just get used to it first, the rest will come later” he told me.  After I had dangled my legs, gotten used to the cool temperature of the water, Mr. Winters explained that I was correct to fear the shallow side of the pool, but only wherein it pertained to diving.  “Never dive into the shallow end of any water” he explained to the class.  “When swimming in the shallow side of any body of water…never dive in, simply walk in, jump in, or ease yourself over the side.”  Somehow Mr. Winters was able to convince the other boys that I had began teaching a portion of the safety side of the swimming class before he could and praised me for doing so.  Suddenly that moment which could have very well ended my swimming career which consisted of not only completing the “Guppy” class, but the subsequent classes of “Minnow”, and finally “Shark” by the time I was 10 years old.

Years later, as a man well into his thirties…I realized that the lesson learned that day at the YMCA pool was not simply for the 7-year-old version of myself, but for the man that I had become and would continue becoming.  In life, we will often find ourselves the last person in line, the smallest, the weakest, perhaps even the most afraid; but where we stand in the line is not what matters most, what matters the most is that we continue to stand!  There will be times when it feels as if the rest of the world has made it into the pool of life and is swimming circles around us, fear not…simply breath, remove your hands from in front of your eyes, relax and sit along the side of the pool and let your feet and legs…just dangle.  Allow yourself to get use to the temperature of whatever waters you are found navigating within, and do not worry about those who are in the water ahead of you.

Each day of our journeys we are learning, we are growing, we are evolving.  Many times, it may feel as if the waters of life are just too choppy, the waves are too threatening, the depth of the situation…too deep.  Do not panic, do not fear…simply remember to relax and enjoy yourself!  Remember that to reach the High Dive of life, you need only climb to the top one step at a time, and there will be railings on both sides of you in which you may hold on to for support on the way up.

Yesterday we were Guppies, today we are Minnows, tomorrow we will become Sharks!  The waters of life will always change, for that is simply life…but what we must never lose site of as we swim within purpose is this…the shallow side is where we learn to be fearless, the shallow side is were we gain our bearings, but if we are to ever dive head first into anything, we must then be willing to move into deeper waters, and climb to higher points of decent if we are to ever fully realize our unique purpose in life, so be blessed, and then become that blessing for someone or something else.


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