Thursday, July 13, 2017

Deep End

Summer afternoon, summer afternoon, ... to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language. - Henry James

I don't know if I've used this quote before, but it is one of my favorites.  I completely agree.  Summer. Afternoon.  It conjures up images of laying in my grassy backyard, watching my brothers in the pool, playing on the front porch, going down the stairs to the coolness of the Haddon Heights Children's Library and gathering up books, and of course, earning swim bands.  We didn't belong to the pool. My cousins did.  But a few times a summer they took us along.  The Oaklyn Swim Club.  I still drive past and I'm amazed at how it has shrunk over the years.  When I was young it was like a mecca for kids ages 5-15.  I wasn't a part of the swim culture there.  So when I first arrived I usually stayed near the baby pool, with the little cousins and the moms and would "help" get the food ready because we always packed for The Whole Day, which meant all the way through dinner until closing.  Eventually I would venture to the big pool, wade in the 3 foot end, maybe go down the slide, up the steps, line up again for the slide, arms drawn around your waist until it was your turn, splash a little, run around, oh no, we're not allowed to run.  That would get you a whistle.  Nothing crazy.  I would stand there in my stretched out, hand-me-down bathing suit and watch the big kids, the kids in The Well.  They would gracefully rise up out of the deep water with their hair slicked back ever so handsomely, glide over to the ladder, hoist themselves up and then climb the ladder to the High Dive and plunge perfectly into the dark blue water again.  I can still feel the sense of panic as they took their time to surface.  Will they come up again?  Will there be a  RESCUE?  My cousin was the Lifeguard.  She sat on the Stand, in her charming red one-piece that showed her taut muscles, twirling her whistle and chomping her gum, hardly giving a glance down into the Deep End, supremely confident that whoever had just dove would rise again, and they usually did.  So when she challenged me to earn my band, I couldn't exactly refuse, even though I had a lot of excuses.  I'm not a Member.  I never really come here.  I don't like The Well.  I don't know how to dive.  The list could go on.  I have to watch the babies in the baby pool.  But I did it.  I don't know how.  I still don't really swim.  My only stroke is the Breast Stroke.  I feel like I'm really good at it, but my family would chuckle if I said that out loud, actually they would probably laugh out loud too.  I took swim lessons one year in a neighbor's pool on Ninth Avenue - the only in-ground pool around at the time.  It was a simple old-fashioned cement pool that I think only had one depth - three feet the whole way across.  My instructor was one of the daughters who lived there and I remember specifically her teaching me the Breast Stroke, that I had to pretend "your legs are grabbing a football."  I must have been about 6 at the time and I remember being struck at the image.  Why would I want to do that?  Anyway after she applauded me for my form, I got the hang of it.  I enjoyed it.  It made sense to me.  I still don't know how to do a Free Stroke, or Freestyle, or whatever, and so I don't know how I passed the swim band test.  Did I put my head in the water?  Did I kick my feet?  The thing I liked about the Breast Stroke was that my arms and legs were moving in basically the same directions at the same time.  I wasn't coordinated enough to do two different things and to remember to breathe.  Just wasn't.  Anyway, I passed.  That earned me the band to go to the Big Pool, but not The Well.  Not the Deep End.  For that I had to Tread Water for 2 minutes, or maybe it was 3, or 5?  That I was good at.  I was a pro.  I would try it.  If I had one thing it was perseverance - it's the only reason I can run at all, because I'm definitely not fast. But first I had to jump in.  Off the Dive, but not the High Dive.  I know that I would line up at the Dive, wait and watch a few kids, and then get out of line with some excuse.  I had to go to the bathroom (not that that ever stopped any Kid from getting into a pool, ever!)  I had to fix my hair.  I had to... just do it.  I could feel my cousin's glare, her extreme impatience with my little drama.  If you can't do it, don't do it. But don't waste my time.  So, finally, to show I was cool and that I could do it, I did it.  I earned the band.  The band to the Well.  Now you have to touch the bottom. Um, excuse me?  I don't think so.  This didn't earn you another band, just respect.  I'm too tired.  Do it.  I remember trying to go down.  Trying to swim against the buoyancy that was making it so hard to push down.  Feeling the pressure in my head as my ears began to explode.  Couldn't do it.  Seeing the Dark Blue Water of the Bottom.  Remembering that some kids had said there were Sharks down there.  Couldn't do it.  Surfacing.  Swimming to the ladder.  Smoothing my hair back just so.  Climbing up again and again.  Going down, pushing down.  Was it 12 feet?  The Deep Drain just beyond my reach, and then I touched it.  Ok, so you touched the Drain.  Big Deal.  Big Deal.  

The Deep End is hard.  It takes us way beyond what we think our capacity is.  Our capacity for love, for friendship, for tolerance.  It pushes us past our breaking point.  It is so easy to stay in the Shallow End, tossing a ball back and forth, wading around, kicking our feet, near the stairs, near the edge.   And we have so much fun there!  Playing Marco Polo with our eyes closed, trying not to laugh, looking for a quarter that has sunk to the bottom.  Up the ladder, down the slide.  Easy.  I watch our kids as they swim around with friends.  There were about 8 teenagers in our pool all playing basketball with the kiddie size nets that stood along the edges, trying to dunk, and 'accidentally' knocking the whole thing in the pool, laughing, splashing, having a great time!  But no one in the Deep End.  Finally my youngest wanted out of the fray, out of the mix, and he calmly dove under water and went down to the Deep End.  He touched the bottom.  He rose calmly and took a breath on the edge a minute and then went back to basketball.  There is something in that Deep End.  It is a prize.  It is a break from the routine, from the mix, from the fun.  But it is also something special, something calming, something we need to hold on to who we are. 

How fun it is to bob around with the floats and the games!  How fun it is to be social and see friends and play at life.  I'm mixed in the busyness of being a mom, sitting at sports events, running into friends at the library, standing in line at the grocery store, sipping drinks on the deck at the pub down the street, talking outside church.  How's so and so?  What are your summer plans?  So good to see you.  And it always is.  Sorry to hear about...  Moving?  Where?  Sometimes these moments linger with us.  We recall the first time we met, how we were acquainted and it brings us back to a piece of our lives, a moment in time.  But then there are the Deep End Friends.  The people we love.  We see them after too long a time and we lock eyes and we see them for who they are and for who we were.  We remember how we needed them, and how they needed us.  Asking the questions that move us beyond the How are you to How are you Really?  We are vulnerable with them. We let down our guard, we share deeply, we forgive when we needed to. We promise to stay close.  We try.  But there is a buoyancy pushing us back up to the Shallow End.  We have to push against it. 

Places are like this too.  When we went looking at colleges, it was the same.  Lots of fun stuff! What? You have 289 clubs?  and they were all founded by students?  Cool!  What?  You have Thai nights and trips to the zoo?  I can study abroad in Cairo?  Sign me up!  (I really did want them to sign me up!)  Play.  But then there is a school that says Welcome Home.  And they say 'You are part of our Family'.  And we say, "Yup, you are part of our family too."  Cause that is what the Deep End is.  You are now going to be part of every dinner table conversation, part of our wardrobe, on the bumper of our car, on our calendar on the kitchen wall.  Part of our memories, part of our etchings in the fresh paint on the hallway walls. "That's from when Jay moved his dresser into the other room.

Experiences are like this too.  I keep trying to find a way to hold on to summer.  I don't want to let these days pass too quickly, but they already are.  I want this to be a Deep End Summer and I don't know how.  I will rehearse the words to myself, "Summer Afternoon, Summer Afternoon, Summer Afternoon." Yesterday I went to Stone Harbor with my mom, and two of my kids.  It's our Deep End place.  I watched and listened as they sat on their towels and and said, "Here, listen to this," as they passed an ear bud back and forth.  They shared laughs and asked each other "Wanna go in the water?"  I talked to my mom about everything and I tried to listen well.  Our umbrella blew over.  My mom's chair got hit by a wave. Charlie missed a spot on his neck and got too much sun.  I will remember that.  My mom made a mess of an orangesicle. We forgot Annie's flip flops and had to go back and find them.  I won't forget that.  We have to hold on to these tiny things that make up our Summer Afternoons.  I think it is a matter of Touching the Drain. Going all in. Pushing against the buoyancy that pushes us back from making moments matter.  

Ideas can be like this.  It is easy to say we accept others, we believe in love, and God, and forgiveness, and Love One Another.  But then there is the practice of actually doing it.  Of Touching the Drain.  When we do, we can make something beautiful happen.  
I have been married for 21 years.  Deep End.  When I am out and about in my day I see so many things, so many people, so many places, but when I look into his eyes, his face, the tiny creases that have started to form, I am in the Deep End. I am in the calm and it is beautiful, out of the fray, somehow safe in our bottom of the ocean.  Does it sound like I'm drowning?  I'm not.  I have my band to prove it.  We earned this one together.