I’ve seen it a million times. A group of dripping kids huddled beside the pool, their tiny, wet bodies folding in on themselves, searching for warmth where there is none. Their knees bend inward; their hair hangs matted and oppressive on their woeful faces. They are cold. It is only for a minute, a minute that to them feels like a lifetime and oh, how they shiver. These kids, dancing about on the soggy concrete, so cold and so vulnerable, at once loathe the universe and yet want nothing more than what they are about to do.
One by one they step forward. “Toes over the edge!” I yell, reminding them to get a grip on the deck to prevent themselves from slipping. They almost never remember to do this on their own. They also tend to forget to wait until I say, “Go”—to wait until I’m ready for them.
I move back through the water, hold out my arms, and brace myself for another sharp splash to the face. On cue, each desperate child flings a body toward me, face screwed up in a manic smile or something else, arms flailing wildly, legs searching for something solid they’ll never find. Suddenly they are there; suspended alone beneath the surface in another world, and time stops.
Not surprisingly, this isn’t something all kids are up for. Some of them just refuse to do it, usually with a lot of whining and tears, while some try to rationalize with me, or simply stare pleadingly, hoping to bend my will with their mind powers. They are terrified. It’s as though I’ve asked them to jump into an erupting volcano. But sometimes, they suck it up and let it fly, only to learn that, hey, it wasn’t so bad.
I wish someone would film these many hundreds of children in their swim lessons, leaping out into the unknown. I’d like to see a compilation—slow motion, set to music—of the pure joy and fear on their faces, uncensored and unconstrained, as they soar through the air for a thrilling fraction of a second.
Here, then, is to noticing all that is beautiful and weird in the simplest of things—like kids jumping into a swimming pool. Here’s to submerging ourselves, like those kids, in that which we don’t understand. Here’s to being afraid, to loving things and hating things and not always knowing why. Here’s to listening to ourselves and to others. Here’s to looking before we leap—or, not. Here’s to finding new life and meaning in the mundane.
Here’s to not waiting until somebody says go.