“Race and racism is a reality that so many of us grow up learning to just deal with. But if we ever hope to move past it, it can’t just be on people of color to deal with it. It’s up to all of us – black, white, everyone – no matter how well-meaning we think we might be, to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting it out.”
— Michelle Obama
Confession: I have never learned how to swim. I realize that such a confession must sound really strange coming from a woman in her fifties that lives in a state that is surrounded by water on three sides, and who lives a mere five minute drive to the beach but there is a good reason why I have never learned.
Mostly because the water didn’t want me to.
Let me explain …
When I was just a little girl, my family and I lived in a house in Georgia that had a huge pool in the backyard. Not one of those beautifully shaped, curvy pools with brick pavers or imported tile skirting the edges with a waterfall feature and palm trees like you see nowadays. No, this was back in the seventies and our pool was just a really long, really wide, really deep, rectangular concrete hole in the ground.
And back around that time, the Nestea company started airing a TV commercial that featured people falling backwards into a pool of water, supposedly because they felt so refreshed after drinking a glass of Nestea! Thus the Nestea plunge was born.
And well, as a little girl I loved doing the Nestea plunge – but normally only when my dad was standing there in the pool, right about the midway point before the bottom drastically began its slope downwards towards the ten foot deep end. I would do a dramatic countdown, scream “Nestea plunge” with the giggly delight of a carefree little girl, and then allow myself to fall backwards into the pool, always trusting that my dad would be there to safely catch me.
And that’s swimming, right? At least in my little girl brain it was. Or at least it was close. I mean how hard could swimming be? I watched my dad and my siblings swim all the time.
So one day I decided to do the Nestea plunge all by myself. Even though nobody else was around. Even though there was nobody there to catch me. I was a big girl; I could handle it; I could swim!
Except that I couldn’t.
I did my dramatic countdown, screamed “Nestea plunge” and then fell backwards into the pool. For a split second, I thought “Yes! I can swim!” as I splashed and grabbed at the water around me. Then I had the terrifying realization of “No, I can’t!” as I began to sink down, down, down.
Almost instantly I felt a wet, furry back slip underneath me and I grabbed on, riding back up to the surface. Our German Shepherd, Misty, had jumped in to save me and she allowed me to ride on her back, just like my dad had done many times, as she paddled me back to the shallow end of the pool.
That dog saved my life – which is one of the many reasons why German Shepherds are my favorite breed and one of the reasons why I have had three German Shepherds in my adult life. Shhh … don’t tell the Bassett Hound and the King Charles Spaniel that are the current four-legged members of our family! It might give them an inferiority complex!
But I digress … now where was I? Oh yeah, explaining how the water doesn’t want me to learn how to swim.
Fast forward a couple of months later and I had worked up the courage to once again jump into the deep end, both literally and figuratively. I was over at a friend’s house, who also had a pool, and after much cajoling I decided to join in the fun. But this time I was going to be smart about it. I was going to wear a life jacket!
I carefully put the child-sized jacket on, carefully adjusting the straps, extremely mindful of the fit. I was going to be cautious! I was going to be smart! But I was going to be bold! I was going to jump into the deep end! No countdown. No Nestea plunge. I just ran and … jumped!
And down, down, down I went. My friend’s older brother immediately jumped in to save me, dragging my choking, spitting self to the shallow end and helping me back up and onto the pool deck.
Apparently my life jacket was faulty. Or apparently the water just didn’t want me around. Or maybe it was both. I think it was both.
So after my second near drowning in as many months I made the decision that I no longer wanted to learn how to swim. I no longer cared for the water. Not pools, not ponds, not lakes. And definitely not the ocean. The ocean is just way too big and has way too many critters and there is just way too many things that can go wrong.
So now – as a middle aged adult living in Florida – I just sit on the beach and wriggle my toes in the sand. The waves may seem beckoning to some … but not to me. The waves may call your name but they definitely do not call mine. I have never learned how to swim.
Because the water didn’t want me to.
“We write for the same reason that we walk, talk, climb mountains or swim the ocean – because we can. We have some impulse within us that makes us want to explain ourselves to other human beings. That’s why we paint, that’s why we dare to love someone – because we have the impulse to explain who we are.”
— Maya Angelou