The Swimmer and The Lifeguard

It is as if a marathon swimmer narrowly escaped drowning immediately after a near fatal shark attack. The Swimmer, who so once loved the water, can now barely stand a whisper of the idea that she might, perhaps, at some point, get the tip of one toe damp while standing safely on the shore.

The Swimmer always loved the water. Always. Always wanted the buoyancy. The sparkle of the sun on the waves. The communing with sea life. The working of muscles against the resistance of the current. The burning in her lungs as she pushed the limit of her physical endurance. When The Swimmer was not in the water, she thought about being in the water. She longed for it. She pined for it. She counted the days until the next time.

Maybe next time, if everything was perfect, she could spend an entire day swimming instead of just a couple of hours. She imagined how grand it would be to never have to come out of the water. Wouldn’t that be something?, The Swimmer thought, I could live with the fish, as a fish. Never to return to dry land. Surely, if I just try hard enough … maybe with just a bit more training … maybe then …

Then the thing happened. It was so much worse for being beyond The Swimmer’s control – for the lack of causality in spite of repeated examination. Mercifully, most of the memory of it has been banished to The Hall of Lost Memories. The Swimmer is pretty sure this is a good thing. Mostly sure. The Swimmer wants to believe this is for the best. The Swimmer also has a nagging voice that says perhaps the key to getting back in the water lies in The Hall of Lost Memories.

The Swimmer sits, swim suit in hand, toes buried in the sand, watching the water, trying to recall the joy. She sits next to her personal Lifeguard, close enough to feel the Lifeguard’s body heat. This is the very same Lifeguard that pulled The Swimmer from the water that horrible day. Though much is lost to The Swimmer, she remembers clearly, being held in the aftermath, with a gentleness that belies The Lifeguard’s strength and size. How The Lifeguard called for assistance and there were two holding The Swimmer. The Swimmer recalls this living fortress. Feeling completely safe while she recovered.

The Swimmer logically understands that it is statistically unlikely that the shark will be there when she braves the water once again. Logically, she does understand that. Logic does not slow her pounding heart when she smells the water. Logic does not regulate The Swimmer’s breathing when she closes her eyes and tries to imagine being submerged in the place she once loved more than any other.

The Swimmer understands that staying on the shore will not bring back her love of the ocean. The Swimmer pulls out her suit every night, pressing it to her face, inhaling the faint scent of salt that no longer washes out, wanting desperately to have the increased heart rate be due to anticipation instead of terror. Wishing it were so.

The Swimmer knows unshakably that, on her return to the ocean, The Lifeguard will be there. He will keep The Swimmer safe as He always has. The Swimmer knows if The Lifeguard had seen the shark coming it never would have happened. The Swimmer knows there is no way to predict the return of the shark.

The Swimmer knows there is no benefit in going back to swim class at the local Y. The Swimmer knows there will be no time spent in the shallow end of the pool. The Swimmer knows she must jump off the pier. She must close her eyes, hold her nose, and jump feet first.

The Swimmer knows all of this. The Swimmer understands. What The Swimmer does not know, what The Swimmer cannot begin to imagine, is how she will ever find the courage to simply stand on the pier … much less jump off it.


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