I went swimming this morning.
This might not sound like that big of a deal, but up until two weeks ago I hadn’t been in the water to swim laps for more than five years, fifteen years since the last time I had done anything even remotely close to something resembling a workout.
After I hung up my goggles in college, I didn’t want anything to do with the water for a while. Nothing. At. All.
And yet the water still seemed to have some kind of power over me. A few months ago I led a writing workshop and one of the activities we did was to write about a physical activity. I wrote about swimming. I wrote about how the water was my first home. About how I found silence, solitude, and strength in the water.
What then had kept me away from it for so long?
Was it because competitive swimming converted the water into a breeding ground for comparisons and not-enough-ness?
Was it because I had become so focused on efficiency, opting for a quick run or a few minutes on the elliptical while I read, return emails, and otherwise multi-tasked?
I’m not sure, but the Universe must have heard the wondering words I wrote in that workshop because two weeks ago my doctor banned me from running due to a pesky foot injury.
Can I exercise at all?, I asked my doctor.
Sure, he said. You can swim.
So I jumped back into the pool. And by “jumped,” I mean I sat on the edge of the pool staring into the water for a several minutes before finally easing myself slowing into the water and grumbling the whole time.
My swimsuit was too small. I had to borrow a pair of my son’s goggles. And the only swim cap I could find was an old cap from my high school swim team.
The first few laps felt strange and painful. I couldn’t find my groove. I felt uncomfortable and out of place. I was slow and uneasy.
In other words, I kind of hated it.
But finally – finally! – after about 45 minutes of swimming back and forth, back and forth, back and forth I finally settled into something that ever so slightly felt like the water I once knew.
And it felt a lot like going home. I felt oddly familiar pains and weird memories. My shoulder hurt in the same place it always had, the remnants of the injury that pushed me out of the water in the first place. I remembered the way the water sounds in my ears, and how well-timed flip turn feels a little like spinning in outer space. I remembered the way my mind both wandered and emptied at the same time.
A few weeks in the water and I am remembering: The water is my first home.
And as I swim back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, I find myself wondering about those things that we leave behind. Why do we step away from these things that once felt so comfortable, so liberating? How do the places and activities we once loved become tainted with comparisons and bad memories? When does something that used to be exhilarating turn into an obligation?
I sometimes worry that writing could become a place of comparisons and obligation for me, as I work to build something akin to a writing “career.” This space here, on this little website, was my first writing home. But lately I’ve been quieter here as I turn my attention to other projects, both big and small. I worry that writing could become what the water had turned into – a place of comparisons, competition, and the quest for perfection.
But then I turn this place, my first home, and to all of you. And I realize I never really left.
It feels good to come home.
Join a masters group! It helps!
So lovely and thoughtful, Christine. I used to swim also and finally did some laps again at the community pool this summer and felt like a return to something I thought was long last. Have you read Lidia Yuknavitch’s memoir, The Chronology of Water? It’s beautiful and excruciating in its honesty. She was also a competitive swimmer, and the water was where she always felt the safest.
You would never know you were the Champion in the 500 freestyle at high school STATE.
NOR would you know you went to Junior Nats, OR HIGH SCHOOL MEET IN FLORIDA…OR
SPEEDO MEETS…..or lettered at UW-Madison Kids looked up to you more than it seems you realize.
Wishes for lots of happy memories coming back as you go back and forth…back and forth!!!! It does not
matter how good you are as much as you give it your best…..then again, that is where the
obligation comes in and the enjoyment goes away because you are such a perfectionist!
Love every minute of your back and forth……glad to hear you are back in the water…..I was
not even good as a competitor in the pool and I LOVE back and forth…back and forth in the
water! ENJOY EVERY SINGLE MINUTE OF IT!!
Swimming is my zen as well. I know I’m not fast, I don’t do flip turns and I don’t even know how to do anything other than free. But I love it all the same…at least I did before I entered training…but it done now (race Sunday). Thankful to recapture the quietness of it, wear no watch, no times matter, just me breathing rhythmically, stopping when I wish. I’m so happy you didn’t quit, it’s so hard to begin, the stiffness and awkwardness of it all, but you described it perfectly when all of sudden, it just becomes smooth. Good stuff.
I thought of your parents while I read your words… And thought of how much they would enjoy reading this. Then I read your mom’s comment… So much well deserved love and pride!
I was a swimmer in high school, and I get exactly what you mean here. It’s been years since I’ve been in a pool for any reason other than fun. Even when I was nursing a running injury I found something else to do. “Anything except swimming,” I would think. This has inspired me to get in the pool. It might be time for me too.
Love your comparison of swimming to writing and I can relate in all ways. Maybe if we focus on the process (the back and forth, the act of putting words down ) we will focus less on the competition and comparisons?
Such a great parallel. And I relate 1000% on how I feel about the “safe” space of my blog versus writing to build resume and all that. “career.” The blog was my first public home and still feels special and mine all mine.
The water sounds so nice. Funny how we end up going back to where we started… and its still right. Thanks for the reminder.