I believe in the perfect stroke. It’s out there, and someday I’ll feel it. As a rower, I choose to wake up at 5 A.M. to make my legs burn and listen to someone yell at me through a blow horn. I’m not the only member of this sadistic cult; were it not for my three boat members, I would easily hit the snooze button. Once at the boathouse, we grunt a greeting, sign ourselves in the logbook so in case we fall in the river the next person will call the Coast Guard, and wait for our coxswain to bark instructions at us. Why do I willingly subject myself to pain, lack of sleep, freezing rain, and criticism? Every day is a chance to find that perfect stroke: the powerful jump off the foot stretchers, the connection of the blade with the water, and the smooth glide down the river. I believe that every stroke requires focus, control, and hope that this one will be better than the last.
As often as I have searched for short cuts, I believe that true pleasure arises out of hard work and determination. If I had given up after the first three times I flipped my boat and waded through the muck back to the dock, I wouldn’t have eventually experienced the thrill of winning a regatta. I hate delayed gratification, but I believe in it.
Sometimes at the end of the season I even think I look pretty good out there. However, just when the rhythm feels great and I think I’m in a groove, I forget to check behind me and nail the ski jump anchored in the middle of the river. Every stroke demands that I filter distractions, concentrate on being perfectly in sync with the elbows in front of me, and fix my own problems without blaming someone else for leaning starboard.
This desire to strive for something better seems to pop up in other areas as well. As an English teacher, I work to create thoughtful lessons that communicate concepts and build skills. Sometimes these flop. Instead of the wild cheers and epiphanies I expected, I face glazed eyes that stare at the clock instead of their papers. Good thing I’ll see them tomorrow and can try a new approach.
After a failed lesson and a long committee meeting, sometimes I come home and prefer to binge on Cheetos than ask my husband how his day went. Other times I forget to call him when he’s out of town, but when he returns, we share a laugh while doing dishes, and I promise to remember next time.
Floating on water, reaching one student, and maintaining a relationship are beautiful things. They keep me going. So I wake up early every day to row, teach, and love my husband because I believe in perfectibility. My goals might be unattainable, but like Gatsby, I row against the current because tomorrow I will find that perfect stroke.
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