I have never really been able to swim. I do have a badge declaring my ability to thrash out one width of a very small pool without dying, and even feel some (misplaced) pride in this achievement. But I’ve never really enjoyed it or relaxed into it.
This was never much of an issue growing up. My only swimming options were the school pool, more chlorine than water, and the sludgy brown oh-so-cold sea of Barry beach, which we’d dare each other to wade into. It was when I went travelling and sat on the shore trying not to sulk as others ducked and dived and clowned around in warm, clear blue water… that was when it occurred to me that I might be missing out. When I tried to join in half-heartedly, to splash around in the shallows, I realised that this went beyond incompetence: being in the water scared me.
And so it was that I found myself on the bus home one evening last year, breathing deeply and holding back tears at the thought of the ordeal before me: my first swimming lesson in thirteen years. I still vividly remember what that meant in school: forty girls in one tiny pool, the non-swimmers herded down one end out of harm’s way and dreading the ‘race’ at the end of the lesson, invariably won by the team that didn’t end up with me. Terrified the whole time, I struggled against the water in rigid panic, and went nowhere.
I can see all this now because I’ve seen a little of how it should be. I’m still pretty far from being able to swim, but I can at least see that I am supposed to relax, to float and glide and above all to enjoy, not to kick and thrash and hyperventilate. There are rare moments where I get it, and achieve more by trying less. Who knows, perhaps I’ll discover my hidden, laid-back consciousness? Om…
Just being able to enjoy the water would do, mind.
From here on January 9th 2008.