Sink or Swim

So you know that scene in the blockbuster ‘Titanic’, where we find Rose and Jack trying to stay alive by clinging to a piece of debris? It wouldn’t support both of them so Jack struggles to maintain in the freezing water in order to keep Rose alive. Ultimately, of course, Jack slips away into the frigid North Atlantic and Rose goes on to a grand life of adventure. I’ve often told my wife if we were to find ourselves in a similar situation to just let me go. I’m no hero, nothing like that.

I just can barely swim. So I know I won’t make it.

Back in 1966 or so, I guess I was eight, my mom sent me up to the pool in Elizabethtown, Kentucky not far from our house. She said I needed to learn to swim if I wanted to go to the pool in the summer. Problem was it was early spring and cold. I distinctly remember the young instructor – probably a teen – having me lay flat on my back and him letting go so I would float. Except I didn’t. And he was as frustrated as I was. I mean, is floating a skill? It seemed to me it was some sort of magic that was beyond my capability. And I went home defeated, telling Mom I was not going back to that horrid place of my watery humiliation. She said that was fine – but I was not allowed at the pool that summer.

Turns out Mom couldn’t swim either. Or maybe she just couldn’t float.

It has taken me my lifetime to fully realize why I am uncomfortable in water. While I did, ultimately, learn to swim, it has never been a natural or even fun thing for me. It turns out a certain percentage of the population does not float – we are of a different density, and first our legs sink and then the rest of our body follows. I’ll tell you floaters this – how much fun would being in the water be if all of your energy was spent trying to keep the nose, and hence, the oxygen supply, above water? It is difficult at best and terrifying at worst. But it’s also okay – we are all different. And in our hot tub out back my wife will merrily float on her back whilst I sink resolutely deep into a corner seat. At least I have my glass of wine handy.

It is so easy in life to accept that something is just so – why, everybody can do this thing! But the reality is that not everyone can do that thing. Float, for instance. Or hold down a good job. Or overcome an addiction. The very things that seem so easy for you or me turn out to be the Mount Everest of challenges to others. I can go into my kitchen, rustle up some ingredients, make a delicious meal without even giving it a thought. My wife sees the kitchen, the same ingredients, and opts out for a bowl of cereal. But she can swim like Esther Williams. And float? She practically walks on water.

Which reminds me of this story.

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
Matthew 14:25-31

I’d say from the evidence Jesus was a floater. Peter – not so much.

I don’t know why we all assume that because something is easy for one of us it is natural to all. I know people who have never met a stranger – completely comfortable in any social setting, quick with stories and witty repertoire. And others who slip into the background in the same room, quietly observing but never interacting.

But, all that said, I think we are designed and destined for more. Just because we can’t float, or cook, or interact, or kick a habit doesn’t mean we can’t step out in faith and see what exactly we are capable of. There’s nothing keeping us on the shore, nothing (except reality and our own fears) keeping us from achieving whatever we need to achieve.

As I said, I did learn to swim. At my own pace, in my own time. I went to a pool a couple years later and explored my limits, saw how my body worked, wiggled across the water. There was no getting around my lack of buoyancy, but I managed to learn to stay alive, gliding across the water by the sheer strength of my arms. I’m not quite ready for surviving a shipwreck but I can hold my own.

Can’t float? Doesn’t mean you can’t swim.

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