Tuesday, August 09, 2005


I miss swimming. Growing up, swimming with synonomous with existing, or so I thought. You ate, you read books, you played tag, and you swam. That was the substance of childhood. In fact, from childhood-tinged glasses, it was the substance of summer life. Summer life was uncomplicated, and swimming, well, swimming was grand. As a child, it seemed we swam for entire days. The schedule went something like, leave the house at 11am, get to the beach several minutes after that, play, swim, build sand castles, have lunches, play more, swim more, have snacks, then go home, baked like a little four foot piece of toast. Those were the days, centered around water, glorious water, cold as the freezer, deep as the upstairs closet, fun as Star Wars come to life. Predictably, my friends and I didn't so much swim, per se, we more kicked and splashed and dog paddled and had breathing contests and things of that nature. Frolicking, then, was not a thing; it was the only thing.

These days, swimming has a new meaning. For a fitness conscious twentysomething, swimming is about exercise, and calorie burning, and all these silly distractions that didn't exist when I was eight. Swimming then signified uninterrupted goofing off in a day characterized by recreation. Swimming now stands for a quick break in the midst of a compressed day, a quick dip calculated to rush water over scattered thoughts and tested nerves. Swimming then occurred all the time. Swimming now occurs almost never. All this stems from a move from New England to the Midwest that has essentially excised swimming from my existence. That is--until this week.

In each of the past two days, I've trekked over to a friend's home (can't mention the Mather's name here) and swam for around an hour with my mother and father. Put simply, these swims have taken me back to the days of splashing and sand castles, of swimming as fun, not program. There is something delicious about stopping all the day's activity and jumping in cool water, something that says "this is good. this is right." I've felt that keenly, though I did have one of those sudden brushes with one's mortality yesterday. Mom, Dad, and I decided to swim a ways away to a giant rock about 800 feet away from us. Midway there, with Dad well ahead of me, and Mom well in back of me, I found myself pretty tuckered out. Now, I knew I could float on my back and be fine. Mortality showed itself not in actual reality but in potential; if I did sink right then and there, it would have taken a miracle to save me. Such moments don't come all that often, but when they come, they come suddenly, and bring a startled alertness with them.

I did survive the trip, and did it again today. In going back to my swimming roots, I'm remembering those childhood scenes, and enjoying them. However, I'd be remiss if I didn't say I was pleasantly surprised by the evident aerobic effect of the activity. Past meets present, and the two join together, even as I leave the lake not four feet tall, but 5'6, still looking much as baked as a piece of toast.


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