50: Learning to Swim

50: Learning to Swim

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

Learning to Swim

The beginning and the end reach out their hands to each other.

~Chinese Proverb

I learned to swim at forty. My young daughters were taking private swim lessons and, well, one thing led to another and I found myself in the pool learning along with them. I was fearful at first but it soon became a joy to learn side by side. We cheered each other on and celebrated each little success.

One day, I was pulling myself out of the pool when I caught a woman eyeing me. She was standing by the deep end. Her two children were dressed in their swimsuits, pulling at her skirt. I sensed her surprise as she watched me, dripping wet, run to the changing area with my two little girls.

I felt my neck grow red. I had always been embarrassed by my lack of swim skills. I wondered if the woman had been noting my panicked stoke. I am sure she was shocked to see a full-grown woman going through swim drills along with young children. Wasn’t I a tad overgrown for this? I know the Dora kickboard didn’t help matters.

I put it out of my mind. After all, I had almost mastered the breaststroke and my swim teacher had promised to show me how to use a snorkel next week. In June I had clung to the side of the pool in the shallow end. Now, just two months later, I practiced many different strokes in the deep end. I had learned to tread water and, after much encouragement, I had done a flip turn just last week. I was proud. However, I did discuss it further with my husband over dinner.

“Maybe I should end my lessons. I’m water-safe now. I’ll just let the girls continue without me.”

“But, do you enjoy it?” he had asked.

Yes, of course I did. And I wanted to master the strokes.

During my next lesson, I was in the deep end and about to push off from the side of the pool to practice the crawl stroke. The staring woman made an unexpected appearance. She waved down my swim instructor to ask a quick question.

My instructor was shouting instructions to me. “Reach, pull, reach, pull.”

The woman’s eyes again were on me for what seemed to be a full minute. Her stare was curious and invasive. To be honest, I felt uncomfortable. I stopped swimming and clung to the side. My instructor quickly dealt with the woman and sent her on her way.

Sensing my discomfort, she said, “Michele, this is so awesome that you are doing this for you and your kids. I’ve taught other adults. You aren’t the first one.”

“I… I don’t like an audience.”

Especially an audience that stared. The door closed behind the woman with the probing eyes. I had hoped we wouldn’t cross paths again.

I decided to not allow it to bother me. I knew I was being too sensitive. If someone wanted to stare as I swam, so be it. I was brave. I knew it. My girls knew it. That was the end of it.

About three weeks later, I was again pulling myself out of the pool after my lesson and came face to face with the staring woman. This time I was the one who stared. She folded her hands over her chest, attempting to smooth over the ruffles on her one-piece bathing suit. Her two children were on either side of her, pulling at her. She, again, looked at me with her invasive eyes, but this time I sensed she was the one who was uncomfortable.

She smiled at me shyly and then, looking at my swim teacher, said, “Do you have room for three?”

It was her awkwardness as she entered the pool that confirmed it. She stood in the shallow end and clung to the side. I knew the spot well. That had been my spot in June.

I marveled at how misunderstanding can sometimes color perceptions. When I felt judged, I was actually serving as the source of inspiration.

And amen to that.

~Michele Boom

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners