If you believe the story my Mom tells, I could swim before I could walk. Evidently I was in baby swim lessons by the time I was something like 3 months old. Then I grew up near the water much of my life. So it surprised everyone, even me, when I moved to Colorado a million years ago for grad school and then never moved back home. Out here in the high desert, I have to be a bit planned about getting near water…hiking to a lake, or walking near a creek, hitting up the outdoor pools in the summer and the hot springs the rest of the year. Part of the joy for me of getting near water isn’t just the swimming part. It is also watching other people love the wonder of the water.
It seems like a pool can especially bring out the best in people. Maybe it’s because so many different people all come together in the same space. Maybe it’s because the pools we go to are extra awesome, like the spring fed place we go to in the summer, or the hot springs I just visited this week.
One day this summer I was having fun people watching at my favorite outdoor pool. I like being surprised by people. It’s fun to see the nondescript guy you wouldn’t have thought twice about doing magnificent moves off the diving board. Or the grandmother who looked all class as she walked down the same board and then pulled off a totally unexpected flip. All the differences you could see in front of you…age, race, fitness, level of interest in tattoos, the goggle wearers and the non-goggle wearers, and the overall glorious lack of hostile judgement. Everyone just got to be themselves, with each other. There was this gentle, shared joy at being outside in a cool pool on a hot day.
It wasn’t perfect, of course. For example, my daughter could tell me which kids were mean, but instead of railing against them, she just moved to the other side of the pool. I wonder if we could offer this gift to ourselves and each other more often: sharing simple joys and making easy connections, even with folks who aren’t just like us, being outside and moving our bodies. What might it be like if we stopped being so angry at people who are different from us, and instead gave them a smile and participated in friendly banter, like you do at the local pool with the person sitting next to you. If you share a chair on the pool deck, or offer a kind word in the locker room, maybe help a kiddo find their lost diving toy, why can’t we do more of this sort of easy going interaction with each other on the street or at the coffee shop? At school when we’re picking up our kids? Here’s a really good one: when we’re driving, even in traffic. Imagine how you get along at a place like the pool, and bring it into the rest of your life. Really, it’s less of a threat than you might imagine.