I took swimming lessons all through my childhood, and by the time I was 12 I realized I was on my way to becoming a lifeguard. I spent endless hours in lifesaving classes, swimming lap after lap with dozens of other students. The choppy water made it harder to breathe, because when you turned your head to the side, a wave or splash from someone in another lane might pick that exact moment to go directly into your mouth.
There was a kind of zen process to swimming laps. After I got over my fear of falling like a stone if I stopped kicking and paddling, I enjoyed being underwater. I would watch the black line of tiles that marked the lane under my suspended body. I would watch for the feet of the person in front of me, suddenly in my face unexpectedly. And I would pay attention to the exertion of my body – the pull and resistance of my arms as they tried to trace perfect S-shapes along my torso.
Coming up for air after all the activity of swimming was almost like a rude awakening. If it hadn’t been for my compelling need to breathe, I would have happily floated forever half-way between the pool’s bottom and the water’s surface.
I’m in a similar underwater suspension right now in my life. So much is going on – the water is churning, and my arms and legs are getting tired. When I come up for air, I’m surprised each time by how exhausted I really am. As when I was a swimmer, the cool water masks the heat of my workouts.
And I notice in those moments how much I wish I could control everything. Line up every object in sight, clear away all the dirty dishes, wipe away all the crumbs. I crave clear surfaces and empty inboxes and crossed-off to-do lists. And I want people to act in a controlled fashion, too. Not much hope for me there, eh?
Yesterday morning I woke up at 2:00 a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep. I went in to work at 7:00, figuring if I couldn’t stop thinking about work, I might as well be there. My morning was a choppy pool of tasks. Where’s the deep end when I need it?
I remember when I was a kid, they would put heavy weights on the bottom of the pool, six feet, 10 feet, 13 feet deep. They taught us how to pike at the hips and shoot straight down – so far that my inner ears screamed and popped and filled with water that made me temporarily deaf.
I’m down there now, only I can’t see the weight I’m trying to retrieve. All I know is the water feels denser here – like viscous syrup. Stuck between the two poles – choppy surface and crushing pressure – I pray for the sweet suspension in between…
Are you a control freak? A recovering control freak? Fun, isn’t it?