For my last Viewpoint column in August, I wrote some dialogue. My reading has gravitated lately to authors who use plenty of dialogue rather than long descriptive writing. One of the recognized best, Elmore Leonard, explained his writing as not including the parts he usually skims or even skips when reading. Anyway, I’ve wanted to try it and my open-minded editor accepted and allowed it. I was just trying to entertain, but because most of my previous Viewpoints have been personal, a lot of readers assumed the man in the dialogue was me. Because the column did inspire quite a few comments and to save some readers from the age-old quip about the nature of assuming, this month I’ll get back to personal.
For six years I was part of a sailing race crew out of the Hampton Yacht Club. We raced the local Wednesday Night Series, overnight races on our wonderful Chesapeake Bay and some races past the Chesapeake Bay-Bridge Tunnel into the Atlantic Ocean. A 30-foot sailboat on the ocean, even with two extra crew members whose main function was to be moveable ballast, is like a cork bobbing around on turbulent waters. The swells rise far above and the constant up-and-down nature of navigating them always was, pun intended, way over my head. The skilled skipper was more than able to handle it though and I often admired his competence to the point of awe.
My job required not much in the way of navigation or knowledge. I was foredeck. For those who aren’t familiar with sailboat racing, foredeck’s responsibility is, as the name implies, from the mast forward and involves changing the sails to meet changing conditions. It’s athletic, precarious and adrenaline producing while taking the waves head on. As the boat unavoidably dives into the waves that start crashing with an approaching storm, for instance, the foredeck person has to react. Take down one sail, put up a different size, run all the lines correctly, tie all the knots efficiently while being rhythmically drenched and knocked around by the waves. All to be done as urgently as possible: it IS a race, remember. I loved it. It was so focused. And I’m proud to have not missed a race in six years. The adrenaline, the coordinated teamwork, the camaraderie was just plain fun and exciting!
While I never shared this with the skipper or with my fellow crew members because I’m sure I wouldn’t have been allowed to participate if they’d known: I can’t swim.
And not due to a lack of trying. As an adult in my 40s, I signed up for a class at the Fort Monroe YMCA. Once a week for a couple of months. On the first evening, I met the instructor who was a reassuring grandmotherly lady who had taught for years, and I met my classmates. The oldest was six years old.
After all the lessons, we were to graduate from tadpole to guppy or something like that. They all graduated. My previously reassuring instructor said, “Brian, you’re like one of my sons. You’re just a sinker.”
A few years later I tried another class at a wellness center. Couldn’t pass the treading water part. Later still, with a lady partner, we took private lessons. I still can’t swim. But when COVID restrictions relax a bit, I’ll try again (if I can find a willing teacher, that is).
Why am I sharing this? Why would you care? Because maybe there’s something in your life that hasn’t come to fruition. Yet. Accepting it as an incomplete story, an existing challenge, can be motivating rather than an F on your life’s report card.
Many years ago a client of mine, who was working out again in her 80s “to get back in shape” after complications from a surgery, reminded me she was missing a workout one day the next week because it was her bridge game. I commented that bridge sounded like a game of strategy and teamwork which appealed to me, and I used to think I’d learn to play but I never did. She replied “Well, you’re not dead yet. Who’s motivating who here?”
When I see people facing challenges far greater than any I’ve had to face and with such admirable spirit, for me to keep trying to be able to swim is just practice. Practice in case one day I have more serious physical/mental/emotional walls to climb. That’s sharing MY personal Viewpoint.