There I sat, cross-legged with goose-pimples so stiff you could have grated cabbage off of them! Adults just come up with one idea after another to torture kids. Like this whole circus. Who in the world thought it was a good idea to get children up at the crack of dawn during summer vacation? Then put them on a bus. Did I mention it was a school bus? And that I don’t like to go to school, in the first place? Oh, and that it was summer vacation? Well, some adult obviously thought long and hard on this one…as the magnitude of suffering caused could not possibly have been mere coincidence.
Riding bus-high over the countryside, there we slouched staring out the windows with dull eyes, sand still in the corners, half-awake. Heads leaning against the glass, hypnotized by the flickering rows of corn sailing by as the bouncing bus hauled us all on a voyage of doom. Fifteen miles later we crested a hill, entering town only to begin our decent to the city park. Bouncing along down, down, down the hill…a picture of my internal state, as I sank down, down, down into the despair that accompanied this trip each time. As we pulled into the park, the fenced enclosure was now visible; there was no turning back. I could not escape even if I thought I had a chance.
Who would pick up a child on the lam without returning her here to face the inevitable—swimming lessons.
Some of you may have thought swimming lessons were great fun. For me, however, the whole ordeal was wrought with unparalleled suffering. As I said before, it was an ungodly hour of the morning and I had no best friend by my side, a stranger in a distant land. I never had spending money for Pixie Sticks, M&M’s or a big flat strip of lavender taffy. The kind with the lovely white ribbon running ethereally down the center…a bit of heaven preserved between two pieces of waxed paper. Even worse, humiliation always awaited me inside that fence as I was forced to expose my greenish-white legs, the result of a tom-boy’s resistance to wearing anything but blue jeans. That habit, adhered to for too many seasons, left me with legs the color of the belly of a frog… and just as appealing.
Since swimming lessons started early in the summer during the morning hours before the pool opened for business, it was certainly much too chilly to safely expose said chicken legs. I was often in the second shift of lessons, so I sat, in my jeans, on a picnic table waiting, shrouded in dread of the horrors that lurked just beyond that fence.
Once inside the confines we were forced to take a freezing-cold shower under a torrent of water just slightly more merciful than the blast of a fire hose. I sat with the beginners group…like a soggy, lost litter of shivering pups, there on the rough, hard cement…too fearful to run for cover since a teenage guard paced back and forth in front of us. Whipping a silver whistle into the air, he stopped and with a quick flick of a wrist…”whip, whip, whip”, the cord wound in an ever tightening circle around the guard’s finger. It was if the slick, winding cord was closing around my throat. Surely something like the live-version of rigor mortis would beset me there on the wet cement.
Then it began. Kids lined the pool, sitting on the smooth cement edging, while teenagers with whistles dove like steely blades into the icy waters, surfacing like sharks tasting the flavor of their kill–dozens of scrawny legs dangling helplessly from the side of the pool. I recoiled in horror as each teenage torturer emerged…donned with fresh war paint in greasy white smears across their high cheek-bones and noses. The sun glistened as the water ran down over sinewy bodies honed specifically for this gruesome task.
At once, we were ordered to begin kicking the water. Like a thousand oars, stiffened by fear, our legs plunged the water with a ”kathunk-thunk-thunk-thunk”. The pool churned–a frothy foam mixture of air bubbles and angst. This soon released a cloud of chlorine fumes, no doubt, with power to sedate the prey. Our captors strode slowly, strongly through the water, parting it and churning it as they closed in on us.
Next, we were told to get into the pool. As I grappled awkwardly over the side, a white-cold shock ripped up through my helpless frame, leaving me gasping for air. I clung to the edge of the pool like a spider trying to get back to dry land. In a trance, I followed the directions to put my face in the water and again kick with the goal of stirring the water; to grab a kick board and paddle my feet, flipping and flopping along, soon twisting over, gulping water and feeling the burn of chlorine in my eyes and nose. Finally, we were herded back to the safety of the side of the pool where we shivered, our boney shoulders curling in toward one another. Skin turning purple and prickled with a million tiny barbs.
And then…it was time…for one-on-one instruction.
I hoped that the teenager would get distracted and not see me hiding, my pale greenish legs blending perfectly into the wall of the pool. Maybe the lesson time would run out…but no…alas, it was my turn. My eyes grew wide as I felt the hands of the instructor lift me by my almost non-existent biceps. I felt suddenly out-of-control…no longer clinging to the side of the pool. Pulled by the force of that teenager into deeper waters…I couldn’t touch the bottom. Half coughing, half crying I fell on her mercy with pleas to return to shore. She said, “Don’t worry.” I worried anyway.
I was then instructed to bring my legs to the surface of the water as she swept me backwards. I lost my bearings as things began shifting out of control. I no longer stood under my own power. Instead I flailed awkwardly, unsure of myself. I fought to regain control, to stand on my own two feet and to return to the wall. She turned me around and looked me in the face…why, she was not a captor, after all. With a smile in her eyes, the tanned, glowing girl said, in a reassuring tone, “Just relax, lay back and let go. I will hold you up…but you…have to let me.”
I did it. I leaned back, but still, I did not float. She told me that I could never float if I insisted on holding my head up out of the water…but that seemed like the best way to me…to keep my ears, nose and mouth where I could hear and breathe and ensure my own survival. Again, she encouraged me to lay back and lean into the water, to trust that it would hold me up if I would only let go.
I gave in. I did what she asked…and she did what she promised. And I was floating. With her arms holding me, I was leaning back, head in the water, tummy raised to a sunny sky. This felt so wonderful: I felt free. It felt so good to look up and see her laughing and smiling at my side. Then I noticed her hands were up, out of the water, clapping for me.
I really was free.
I had passed floating. As I stood unafraid in the middle of the pool, she explained that she didn’t let go until she knew I had finally trusted the water to hold me up.
And, yes, I still love floating. To enjoy the sweet peace of lying on the water, head back…tummy up…under a bright, sunny sky.
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. ~John 8:36~ NIV