Rivers, oceans, anywhere underwater exploration was to be done. A lifetime spent swimming in entertaining places. Surface swimming is boring. Doing laps in a pool is even worse. Holding your breath underwater and finding out how far you can go, seeing what you can get to, now that’s being an explorer. ‘Only people as good or better than me can get to where I go’ I would gloat as I glided along. Holding one’s breath is actually a practiced sport. My father was very good at it. He also enjoyed swimming as far as he could on one breath. I’m sure that he started it.
Sitting in church on Sundays, during the more boring parts of mass, my father would sit there as quietly and motionless as the most devout of all goers. He would be holding something small with both hands in front of him in just exactly the way a set of rosary beads would be held, keeping track of which bead he was on with his thumb and forefinger. His meditation and prayer was so intense that his face would start to turn red. Then, sometimes at the quietest part of mass, he would spring a leak and a great amount of air would come hissing out of his nostrils. Mother always seemed extremely agitated at this. I was confused as a young child, ‘why did dad leak so loudly in church and why did that make mom so angry?’ Apparently, he was holding his watch. He had made it to two minutes. As I said, practice is key
I haven’t been swimming for a long while, now that I have ALS. I haven’t done many things that I should have, I suppose. It’s easy to withdraw when you can’t do it for yourself. Mary and I finally got a city pool pass. She got me into the pool using the mechanical lift. They so often don’t work, most often they don’t work but they satisfy building code people checking off boxes. After some head scratching between lifeguards and the maintenance man, I’m in.
Mary grabs me by both hands. “I can’t swim with somebody holding both hands” I protest. I wiggle free like a child acting annoyed by a mother holding it back. She lets me go and I go and bob face down in the water. It becomes immediately apparent to me that this is where I will stay. A whole new outlook on how the world now works is revealed to me very quickly. I can’t do anything about my situation, and I can’t communicate with anyone with my face under water. Since I’ve never made it past two minutes, and I am out of practice, I have less than two minutes for someone to get the idea that I’m not just peacefully resting here. Of course, my lovely wife plucks me up in plenty of time, as I know she would, but it’s amazing how much goes through your mind, and how quickly you learn new realities.
We figure out what works and have a very pleasant time, an activity opened back up. Mary is a loving and understanding partner and we look forward to going again. As I stated before, it becomes all too easy to withdraw when one has no control over doing it for themselves. This is a constant struggle.
One of my snorkeling adventures long ago
More than half the joy is just doing.
1. I’m so glad you and Mary are swimming together.
2. The picture in my mind of your dad holding his breath during Mass is hilarious.
So happy you went swimming!