I know how to save myself… I learned when I was in undergraduate school. My senior year I was in need of a PE credit. I perused the course catalog (yes, back then it was an actual book you read) to try to find something that would interest me. Aerobics and dance and jazzercise all seemed a little too girly for me… when I finally caught a glimpse of a course title that read “Advanced Life Saving”. Wow. I knew this was the class for me as I was about to embark on a career as a Special Education teacher… I wanted to be prepared.
On the first day of class, I felt very nervous and out of sorts when I walked into the classroom and the instructor was in her swimsuit. She began to describe “Advanced Life Saving” and how, when we completed the course, we would be the best lifeguards in the area — “What? How did this happen?” I was admittedly a good swimmer, as a tomboy athletics were my natural default position. But, I was very unsure about whether I was good enough to be a lifeguard — saving a life seemed a bit too superheroish for me and saving a life while your own life hangs in the balance, while you’re treading water, was a concept beyond my comprehension.
I’ve never been a girl who passed up an opportunity to show-off for the boys, for the girls, for the squirrels perched in the near-by trees. Since the town I grew up in was surrounded by lakes, many of my “I’ll take that dares” involved water, but, I was never the first one to plunge off the rope swing dangling from the rickety old tree branch or jump off the bow of the boat in the middle of the murky water or jettison myself from the bridge as my friends cheered below — I did all those things, but I did them at my own pace. Now… in my senior year of undergraduate school, I was about to face several months of daily prods to submerge myself and my fears in the pool that would be my classroom.
The first day of class, we had to swim 500 meters in under 10 minutes… or do it again. The second day we had to tread water while holding a 10 pound weight for 5 minutes (we had to start over if our shoulders went below the water). The third day we had to hold the 10 pound weight at the bottom of the deep end until the instructor tapped our shoulder. I was scared and thrilled and over-whelmed and energized and weak and small and… scared. I wasn’t sure I was cut out for “Advanced Life Saving”. But, I kept at it, twice a week for five months I walked into the changing area, shaking, nervous, stomach in knots over what might take place on that day in the pool. I jumped in the pool each day as if I was exactly in the right place — and I survived.
I have often forgotten that lesson. Life has a way of presenting itself so that we think we are out of air, that we are stranded on the bottom of a pool with the weight of the world chaining us in place, hoping someone comes along and taps our shoulder so we can surface and breathe again. When all we need to do is aim ourselves in the right direction and kick with all our might and reach for the fresh air waiting to fill our souls… always at our own pace. No one, no matter how much you look up to them or care about them, can propel you in a direction you aren’t ready to go. But, still, having someone willing to tap your shoulder when they see you’re running out of air is comforting, it’s human, it’s the connection that gives us life. What we do with the connection we have with others is left up to us — with it, we save ourselves… and sometimes, each other.
What I learned most in that class was that I could save myself… even when I thought I was out of options or air or strength, I could save myself. I have often forgotten that lesson.
So, here I am, a girl whose stomach is in knots, whose hands are shaking, who’s questioning her movements — but I am jumping in, like I belong here.