Soft Water

Life is just a search for content; it is a story you are writing. When the story starts to get a little boring, it is the author’s fault. To paraphrase a friend, it is because the author chooses to write a boring story.

That is what got me out here this morning. I resisted going, because it would be easier to not get up early on my day off, to not swim in the cold water, to not turn blue. But I love to read a good story.

I am not a particularly good swimmer, but I have been told that my form is beautiful. Several times: the little old ladies in the frilled onesies doing their Watersize; a lifeguard; a couple of the old guys trying to work their way through heart disease or cancer or loss.

I ran into one of those guys this morning on my way to train for the Cap2K at Barton Springs. By some strange alignment, I run into Craig pretty much every time I train at the Townlake YMCA indoor pool, no matter what day or time. He’s in his 80’s, thin and tanned. He is one of those old people who always have this subtle smile on their face, beneath his still clear blue eyes. He is always alone, and I assume he has outlived friendships and loves. I tell myself the smile is because he has not stopped working on his story.

And so as I walked into Barton Springs, there was Craig walking out. We chatted a bit, surprised to run into each other, and then he told me that he was just there testing out his new wetsuit. He’s headed to Florida in May for a US Masters Open Water Championship race. You have to see this guy; he’s really old. He says he can’t take the cold anymore, so he won’t be swimming the Cap2K at the end of this month, and he thinks he needs a wetsuit even for Florida. He’s got that smile.

Me, I am a straight line in the water–a very, very straight line, textbook form, because that’s where I learned it: in a book. There are three phases to the crawl swim stroke: the “catch,” the “pull,” and “recovery.” For the catch, reach like you’re trying to grab a rung on a ladder just a little beyond your reach. The pull, you have to actually grab the water with your open palm, anchor your hand and pull yourself through. Throughout, your body needs to be perfectly horizontal, rolling onto your side when you pull, all in a effort to engender as little resistance to the water as possible. Water is resistance, and everything comes down to mastering resistance. I take it personally. I asked my wife once to watch me and see if she could figure out why people hesitated to share a lane with me, and she said “they’re afraid.”

But something happened today, maybe thanks to Craig, maybe not. I did not find the water terribly cold. I felt the resistance, took it personally, but relaxed and the water softened. It literally felt soft. It was a unique feeling, to be immersed in resistance, to feel it envelope you, but to accept that as the way of water. It made me smile.

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