Yesterday, I graded ENG 102 papers. *Why aren’t they getting it?!* I kept asking myself. *Why is analysis so hard for the freshman writer?*
In my frustration, I thought to take a break. I thought to swim.
Having grown up in Detroit, I still marvel that I live in a place where I can swim outside in February. I marvel that I can walk across campus right in the middle of my day, jump into the pool, swish around and get my heart rate up, and then go on with my day like swimming is my own secret I carry with me everywhere I go.
In a way, it is. I have been an avid swimmer my entire life. I don’t much remember life without swimming. My mother cannot swim, but her daughters swam competitively. We even did synchronized swimming in the summers. My mother’s girls can swim.
After shivering for years in the unheated city pool where we swam on cool June mornings in Michigan, I finally understand that through her own inability in the water my mother gave me one of the best life skills I could ever have. There are many times I doubt myself in any given day, but I don’t doubt myself in the water. On one vacation about five years ago, I even found myself in choppy seas treading water trying to help another person who was having a panic attack. We were supposed to be snorkeling and we had no business being out in the water with such high wind and waves. But we had paid our fee, and the company took us out along with a few other tourists. I was the one who didn’t panic. I knew enough to be mindful of the danger I was in, but I also trusted myself enough as a swimmer to keep myself and others safe.
Yesterday, I took a swim lesson. This was probably a full forty years after one of the first ones I ever had.
At first I thought: What could I possibly learn about swimming? Well, apparently a lot. After forty years of swimming, what I know really well is my comfort zone, and when I’m not in the high seas attempting to snorkel on vacation, I generally stick to what I know. Yesterday, I Had to Do a Different Stroke. I had to use kickboard. I held on to the red foam float-able like I was six again and tried to imitate the motions that our instructor gave us. I moved no faster than a canoe going against fierce rapids. At one point, I actually looked at the numbers on the side of the pool’s walls to confirm that I was going forward. Why wasn’t my body working right? When it came time to add the arms, my lower body and upper body wouldn’t cooperate with each other. It was complete discord. I was failing in the pool.
This is what I learned from this week’s failing moment. It was simple. It was profound. No matter how good we are at something, there is always another aspect of that something to learn. There is always another way to become the student, yet again, and learn about learning.
I watched as my lower body told my upper body to take a hike. I watched myself struggle. Mary Jane Onnen in the next lane over watched me struggle, too. It was the perfect lesson, returning me to a state of gratitude, and returning me to that group of ENG 102 papers later that evening with a lot more understanding and humility.