Phragments From Phyllis: A little enlightenment in the swimming pool

  • Friday, August 2, 2013



My grandchildren Cade and Payton recently took swim lessons.


Cade’s were designed to improve upon his already-burgeoning prowess in the water. Payton’s were an effort to make her water-safe.


And for me, it became a lesson in recognizing that there is indeed a “time for every purpose under heaven.”


Anyone who has watched a child learn to swim should be able to relate to some of the concerns.


Cade’s instructor had been his swim team coach, so her goals at the outset were three-fold: to move him beyond just swimming under water until he needs to breathe and then reverting to a modified dog paddle while taking a breath, then to teach him breast stroke and butterfly. What she hadn’t bargained on was his reluctance to breathe to the side.


The instructor spent the bulk of the time on that, deciding that without that skill, butterfly and breast stroke would have to wait.


As a former teacher, I know that there are certain skills that are in large measure developmental, that is, no amount of work on those skills is going to result in the child really learning them until their time has come.


For example, I’ve watched lots of kids who learned how to read at 3 end up no better readers than most who didn’t learn to read until they were 5 or 6.


I asked Cade’s swim instructor if at 5 was he is simply too young to fully grasp breathing to the side. It strikes me as possible, though I have no empirical data to prove it.


Meanwhile, across the pool Payton was reluctant to do much of anything. I spent part of each morning attempting to reassure her that she was not going to drown if she went under water. She would cry that she would drown, and I would remind her that the instructor would be right there to keep her safe.


We spent two weeks working on her faith in the instructor and, for that matter, in me. Now, two weeks later, suddenly she’s swimming under water, jumping into the deep end and more. So this week I thought I’d work on getting her to float on her back.


And again, the biggest battle is a matter faith. She finally began to trust that I was not going to let her drown, and she’s now truly floating. Anyone who has ever tried to teach a kid to swim knows that the biggest hurdle is getting the child past the panic mode and into the relaxing mode.


In my view Payton was finally ready. The time had come. She stretched out her arms, stretched out her legs, tilted her head back and let go.


As an aside, I am reading an interesting book called “The Heart of Christianity” by Marcus J. Borg. He defines “faith” for Christians using four different meanings – assensus or faith as a “belief,” fiducia or faith as “trust,” fidelitas or faith as a commitment of the heart and visio or faith as a way of seeing.


It’s the second one that caught my attention. Borg compares faith to floating in a deep ocean – a metaphor he credits to Soren Kierkegaard: if you struggle, you’ll sink, but if you relax and trust, you’ll float.


For me Payton was the living example of what it means to have faith. As she let go, as she began to trust that I indeed would not let her drown, she relaxed and discovered she could ride on the water without moving her arms or legs for as long as she remained in that trusting state.


Expanding on the view of faith as trust, Borg concludes, “if you are anxious, you have little faith.”


Maybe if I follow Payton’s example and work on that in my own life, I might be able not just to float but to walk on water.


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