Tuesday, July 17, 2012

An Invitation to the Deep

For our family, the local public pool is like an oasis, a welcome diversion and a life-giving place in the middle of an otherwise over scheduled summer.   The pool serves as a meeting location for impromptu gatherings with friends and provides a time for Andrew and Natalie to get more deliberate attention from Dave and me as they work on their swimming skills.  Both kids had their yearly 2-week swimming lesson sessions earlier this summer and have made notable progress, with 6-year-old Andrew now able to swim underwater and 4-year-old Natalie blowing bubbles underwater and kicking those legs.

Yesterday, in an attempt to beat the forecasted thunderstorms, we arrived at the pool early in the afternoon.  Considering that it was the weekend, it was a quiet day there.  Though unfortunate for pool business, I prefer days like this, when fewer swimmers means that I can easily spot my kids in the water and that we have the space to try new things.  Noticing an empty spot in the deeper water next to two lifeguards and a ladder, at the far corner of the pool, where the shallow waters quickly become deeper, I jumped at the chance to get the kids out there to work on their swimming skills and to increase their confidence in the deep water.

“Do you want to come to the deep with me?” I asked.

Andrew wasn’t interested, but Natalie came willingly, hugging my neck and riding on my back, her leg kicks acting as her contribution toward our forward movement.  With some effort, I was able to encourage her to jump into my arms from the poolside.  After several jumps, I saw the depth marking on the side of the pool.  Three feet, six inches.  Andrew is at least four feet tall now I thought.  I’m sure that Andrew can stand in this water.

I waved at Andrew, who was back at the other end of the pool, motioning for him to join us in the deep.  He waved back at me, indicating that he wanted me to come to him.  I waved with more force and enthusiasm.  This time, Andrew started moving in my direction.

“Andrew, the water’s only three feet, six inches here,” I shouted.  “I’m sure you can stand here.”

“No I can’t.”

Coming closer, I tried again.  “But Andrew, you’re at least four feet tall now.  I’m sure you can touch the bottom and keep your head above the water, even if it means standing on your toes.  It will open up a whole new world of possibilities to you.  Come on, let’s go and try.”

“I don’t believe you.  It will be above my head.”

“Trust me.  Come on, I will carry you.”

Reluctantly, he agreed that I could pick him up and carry him back to the deeper water, where I left Natalie hanging on the ladder.  Andrew allowed me to slowly lower him into the water, his rigid body revealing that he was still very afraid.  Chin down, he looked into the water and pointed his toes, hoping to touch the bottom.  When he first sensed the bottom of the pool, Andrew smiled, and he laughed.  His tension ceased, and joy emerged.  He started trying out his series of swimming skills, stroking down to try to touch the bottom, then quickly swimming to the surface and grabbing the side of the pool. 

“Now in the pool I can go wherever I want, right Mommy?”


The deep of the pool reminds me of my own deep, that vast expanse of unknown out there waiting for me.  I see it.  It’s just barely out of reach.  I sit in the shallow end, listening to the joyful screams and laughter and gazing at the life happening out there.  Most of the time, I’m content to watch.  After all, I like the shallow end, which has its own charms.  I can easily stand here, and things are familiar.  But sometimes, I long for the opportunity to venture in to the deep, without knowing what exactly will happen there, but with expectation and hope that it will be something truly amazing.
When I receive invitations to the deep, I have my handy list of responses ready: I’m not smart enough, pretty enough, good enough, fast enough.  I’m not capable.  I don’t have enough money or the right skills or resources.  I’m too busy.  I don’t like being out there where everyone can see me.  I have young children to take care of, and I’m tired.  But sometimes, the right person or situation convinces me to say yes.  I can make it to the deep with their help, and more than just make it, I can stand there, toes reaching the bottom.  I can practice my own swimming skills, growing in confidence and finding new joy.  

When I say yes to the invitation and travel to the deep, I feel alive.  And I feel empowered to try new things too -- maybe say yes to the next invitation instead of relying on my typical excuses.  I invite others to join me, longing to see their excitement when they discover that they too can play in the deep.  I want my kids to experience this with me: my decision to say yes to invitations that aren’t safe or easy, my struggle in attempting things unfamiliar, and my joy in discovering new and empowering truths.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

City Life

(Over the next few weeks, I'm taking an online writing class.  I'm looking forward to all that I will learn!  I will post some of the writing here.  I do plan to get back to writing more about running and water, maybe even as a part of this class.  Thanks for taking the time to read!)

My friends will tell you that I’m passionate about city life.  On some days, I’m smitten.  I felt that way, especially in the beginning, when everything was new.  I arrived in a small city called Lancaster a couple of years after graduating from college.  It’s a mysterious place, smack in the middle of hearty Amish country and acres upon acres of farmland, but with a diverse population including whites of German ancestry, African Americans, Latinos, and more recently, refugees from Southeast Asia.  And then there’s my husband and I, who twelve years ago were newcomers to Lancaster County and its unique culture, a culture that is evolving as more “foreigners” like us have reason to come and make lives for ourselves here.

In the beginning, walking to market, testing different running routes, finding favorite restaurants, and meeting new friends quickly became treasured activities.  During any one of these pastimes, I could be with people from many different backgrounds.  I loved the discovery and the learning.  It was all so very new and fun and interesting to me.

When my husband and I purchased a house, I started to see Lancaster as our home.  On our block were several neighbors who had lived on our street for years and years and were eager to tell us about their city life experiences.  We’d often meet one of these neighbors, an elderly gentleman named Charlie, on the sidewalk as he was preparing to make his weekly trip to market.  We’d exchange pleasantries, talk about the glorious farm and Pennsylvania Dutch goodies that Charlie was about to purchase, and discuss the latest neighborhood news, which often involved someone parking in someone else’s space or a complaint about Peggy storing her scooter in their shared alleyway.  A few years later, when Charlie was no longer able to make the trip to market and I started to make frequent stops there, complete with stroller and kids, I’d get a list from Charlie: fresh tomatoes, a dill pickle, two half pints of chicken pot pie, four beef hot dogs, and three small bags of Utz potato chips.  When I’d return to his house with his food and his money, he’d always be sure to hand back some change for the kids’ piggy banks.  It was the same song and dance every time.  Initially, I’d refuse the money, but he’s always been more stubborn than I, and eventually I’d receive his gift and thank him.  

This is city life at its finest: opportunity for relationships with others not like me, shared experiences (good and bad) leading to solidarity, helping one another.

I often say that the city can bring out the best and the worst in people.  After a while, the things that once made city life so fresh and invigorating started to wear on me.  Excitement about being with people of other backgrounds lessened as I realized that it is easier to be around people just like me.  The running routes, restaurants, and routines became old and tired.  And then there are the other small annoyances adding up over time: people hitting our cars and neglecting to leave insurance information, missing porch plants, escaped pets and stray cats in our backyard, a stone through our living room window, limited living space.  Friends are moving on to their bigger homes with spacious backyards.  I feel cramped, stationary, and angry at that stranger who just took the parking space right in front of our house!

Even relationship with Charlie is strained.  Bedridden now, he calls at night wanting me to adjust the temperature control on his heater.  He calls to complain about his nurses and our neighbors.  He calls asking me to visit.  When I don’t visit as often, he calls to check whether my phone number has changed.

When I stopped getting phone calls from Charlie, I went down to his house to check on him.  He didn’t recognize me that night.  He was confused and cold to the touch.  The next morning, surrounded by close friends that he has collected over the years, it was clear that the end was near.  Or so we thought.  Charlie is as stubborn as ever, even in death.  Waiting with Charlie binds us together.  Despite my weary and sometimes bitter description of city life these days, times such as these, the precious moments and relationships, keep me holding on.  Gratitude for both the sacred and mundane city life experiences results in hope.  This hope causes the frustration to dissipate, at least temporarily, and allows me to tolerate the closeness.