This I Believe

Nichole - 48072, Michigan
Entered on May 2, 2007

I believe in the water.

I believe it has the power to teach great lessons about life and the struggle to let go.

I confess I’m a bleated believer. I converted only recently, after 36 years of fearing anything deeper than a bubble bath. As a child, friends worked to break my fear with bribes and barbs. I would not be moved, not even during the summer, when the sweltering heat would send the Detroit swim mobile, a great Motown pastime, rolling through the streets.

Without fail my friends dived in. I was content to play it cool, play it safe in the grass. I’d probably still be clinging to this shallow view, but for my four-year-old daughter.

She led me to the water, after all these years, with her pleas for a swimming class. I’d planned just to sit and watch her try to live out a Disney induced fantasy of becoming a mermaid.

But on the day we drove to our local YMCA to register for class, my daughter’s excitement cast a spell over me. I wanted to feel the thrill that had taken hold of her, to see if there was still time to let go of my lifelong fear. The only way to find out, I told myself, was to join her and jump in.

Every Saturday morning, we head to opposite sides of the pool. I wish I could say I’m swimming like a fish; I’m not, and I’m not certain I ever will.

I’m more enchanted by the similarities between the trust that both the water and life beyond the pool demand. On Saturdays when I’ve been able to leave my anxieties at home, I’ve found myself floating, piecing together the beginnings of a stroke or two and discovering the benefits of taking deep breaths.

Still, more often than not, I’m visited by fear, the possibility that I’ll be pulled under, exposed as a control freak, incapable of relaxing. Anyone who’s watched me attempt a backstroke knows the chance is real. My face telegraphs, like a Broadway marquee, the panic going off in my mind. How am I supposed to trust in a direction I cannot see? I want proof that the water will not allow me to drift off course.

A smile and a one-liner are all my teacher offers, no life jacket, no fun noodle.

“Fight the water,” she says, ” and the water will fight you back.”

I’ve felt the sting and swallowed enough chlorine to know she’s right. Each time I tell myself, focus on the big picture: I’m no longer running. I’m facing my fear, believing, just like my daughter, that the water will soon set me free.