On a midsummer afternoon in 1986 on the shore of Lake Providence in Kingston, Massachusetts, a little girl, on her very first day at sleep-away camp, just a month out of fourth grade, just hours after being dropped off by her parents, just minutes after being introduced to lake swimming, and just seconds from recognizing the independent soul of herself, completed her swim test in record-breaking fashion. After finishing strong in the crawl stroke and backstroke, she stood on the edge of a dock that jutted far into the stillness of green and black water and watched as droplets from her wet bathing suit collected into a puddle between her wrinkled toes.
Her parents were probably on the Connecticut side of Interstate 84 by now, driving in a very quiet car. Perhaps they were already back at home, eating a lonely dinner. She couldn’t ponder for too long, because her thoughts were abruptly interrupted by a chipper, yet direct voice. “You’re next”, the camp counselor declared. “Dive in and swim underwater as far as you can”, she said. “If you can get to that rope out there, great” she continued. “Ready? Go.”
That little girl took in a gasp of air and then, in one quick, svelte move, pushed from way down deep in her legs and catapulted into the dark, cold water. And she swam. And swam. Letting her body carry her through the timeless, boundary-less, murkiness of the lake, she moved in a seemingly effortless glide...into a realm that was completely new, yet oddly familiar.
In the silence below the surface of the water, she coasted. Calmly determined. Fiercely on her own. She swam past underwater weeds and large rocks, and probably a dozen or so buggy-eyed creatures. She swam past babyish whimpers and whines. She swam past leaving the light on at bedtime. She swam past the boogeyman under the couch. And she just swam and didn’t stop, until her brain listened to her lungs and alas, she finally emerged.
With a dizzy swirling inside her head and with a pounding heart, she turned to look back at that great big, um, maybe not so big wooden dock. Blink. Blink. Double-blink. Once her eyes regained focus, she realized what she had actually done. And there, about 15 yards past the rope, the “if you can get there rope,” she let her tiptoes sink into the muddy gook while her spirit soared. In one smooth shot, she had held her breath and swam way past the rope, way past “good enough,” way past her years.
It is in these recent years, these sometimes crystal-clear and at other times murky years of motherhood, in which I think of that brave little girl at Camp Mishannock. I think of her in the quiet that comes at the end of a day, in the serenity that has the power to wash away. I think of her as I lay down with my 5-year-old boy in a dreamy stillness. I think of her as I nestle my baby girl, feeling her back rise and fall while her puffs of air rhythmically whisper against the soft part of my neck.
I think of that little girl when I, alas, at the end of a long day, come up for air. And I know that even though there will be some days in which I will not be able to swim to the rope, there will be other days when I will be able to dive right in, and swim to it, and beyond. I know this, because I know the capacity of me. And I am thankful that in the summer of 1986, in one, quick, svelte move, I dove in deep and discovered the depths of myself.