When I studied Media Ecology under brilliant Neil Postman at NYU’s graduate school, he told us that by our very nature humans are teachers. It’s been my experience that this is not always so – at least when it comes to swimming.
When I was no more than nine years old, for example, I stood naked and shivering in nipple-high water at my hometown YMCA pool for my first swim lesson. The instructor, who must have been only high school age himself, demonstrated with a teaspoon that dense objects sink in water. I would not sink, he promised, because I wasn’t a spoon. To demonstrate how the water would hold me up, he told me to fall forward onto my face. The next day I came down with a cold and never went back.
Years later I tried again at another YMCA. My instructor, this one maybe college age, swore she could teach a rock to swim. We would begin by learning to tread water. She told me to swirl my legs like an eggbeater. No omelet.
Years later, there was Emma, an accomplished competitive swimmer in her youth and a specialist in conflict resolution among nations. After two summers with her, I could cross the pool using the breast stroke. But passing over the deep end terrified me because I thought I would sink if I stopped stroking.
Meanwhile, my wife had discovered Melon Dash and had left me in the dust, to strain a metaphor. Jo Anne was snorkeling far out into the bays while I watched from the beach.
Miracle Swim Master Melon Dash.
So I re-set to zero and signed on with Melon’s Beginner class in Sarasota, immediately followed by her Next-Step class.
She opened the first session by introducing us to her visionary “Five Circles” teaching method and assured the eight or nine of us students that we were “born swimmers.” I didn’t believe her.
During classroom sessions followed by time in the pool, Melon helped us learn to swim in the same way children learn to walk: step by small step, naturally, without pressure or challenge, and having fun the whole time.
By the end of the two weeks of classes, I could breast stroke across the pool without fear. I could float vertically as long as I wanted to. I could leap into the deep end forwards -- and backwards – having fun the whole time.
Yes, I now was comfortable in deep water. But only in the calm of a pool, feet away from the safety of the side. I feared being out of control in the open ocean and being swept out to sea. I still didn’t feel like a born swimmer.
So off to Hawaii and Melon’s Snorkeling class.
A few days into the class, while floating face down in perhaps 15 feet of Pacific Ocean and admiring coral blooms as big as VW Beetles, I had my Aha! Moment. Sure, there was current and wave action, but I felt one with the water. The ocean wasn’t just holding me up, it was pushing me up. To accept this and to feel the truth of it took me about 60 years – and Melon Dash.
Finally, I’m at peace with the water.
I no longer watch longingly as my snorkeling wife wanders face down all around Vieques. Instead, she tells friends she can’t get me out of the water once I’m in.
Swimming is not about strokes, I learned. To swim means to be completely at peace in the water – whether it’s the seven-foot deep end of my Vieques pool or the 7,000 feet of ocean abyss over which I snorkeled in Grand Turk this summer.
Melon was right all along. I am a born swimmer.
In my next blog, “This Way to the Gate of Heaven”