One of the most delightful pass-times this summer has been early mornings, after breakfast, introducing my four month old grandson to the small, Texas-sized bathtub in my mom’s backyard. What’s made it more fun is his apparent anticipation, as his swim trunks are taken off the drying-rack outside and he’s carried to a place where a new freedom from the constraint of clothes can be enjoyed, at least, momentarily. In his swimming “briefs” he’s discovered there’s plenty of room for extending legs, flailing arms, and laughing aloud at the air excitedly sucked in, before pursed lips blow bubbles out in sheer delight. His enthusiasm increases when his “Nana” (me) or Great Grandma Jean appear in matching attire (with a few more threads to show), followed by the collection of towels and hats to shield tender skin from Florida’s bright sunlight, even at an early hour. It’s the signal for preparing to wade out into a new watery realm.
Easing into the pool by way of a submerged, semi-circular stairway, his small arms wrap purposefully around his transporter’s shoulders. He lifts his head to look around at the dogs circling poolside, intent on ensuring his safety, then he looks down as he feels the lapping of the cool water on his feet and chubby legs. A short brimmed hat appears lower on his face as his eyebrows raise and eyes widen with each inch of the descent. Bobbing gently up and down with his belly against a familiar point of contact, I rotate him to face outward and lean him back against my chest letting his legs float out in front of his relaxed frame. I wrap one hand under his arms and support his small back with the other. Walking backwards around the shallow end of the pool, he begins to kick his feet, feeling the splash of water on his belly and face. He is at ease—trusting—-and it seems we could go on all day just floating and swirling gently through the water, in this peaceful setting.
I can’t remember how or when I first learned to swim, but I do remember water being introduced as a “friend”. I had known water as a means to wash, cleanse, and emerge refreshed, whether by showers or immersion. As I got older, I also learned water was the essential element of life as we know it. Our bodies, our environment, our food supply, as well as a means of generating power. It was, and remains, an element common to all.
I thought about how water combined with wind, channeled into narrow passages over a short period of time could become a formidable threat. I had experienced this in storms conjured by forces beyond man’s control, and the raging white-waters of canoe trips on the Lower Canyons of the Rio Grande as a young adult. Floods and devastation resulting from too much water in various places around the world, in history and in more recent years, came to mind. And yet, the many connotations associated with water all started with a simple introduction to water as a “friend”.
Here I was with my grandson, peacefully enjoying a controlled setting, understanding this wouldn’t always be his experience with water as he grows up. But for now, I was thankful water could be our friend. And I hope someday he’ll know the power and importance of its sustaining properties. If just for today, I’m thankful for it’s peaceful, soothing qualities. I’m thankful for the joy it brings us both, and for the hands that nurture us both.
Emerging from the pool with my grandson, I wondered how our lives are influenced and changed by the presence or absence of water—our experiences with it, our associations with it, and whether or not they are positive or negative in nature—this essential element, common to all, relevant to life as we know it. How wonderful to see through the eyes of a child, if just for a moment: trusting and believing water is our “friend”, as we learn to swim, again.
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36: 25, 26)
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:5)
When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. (Isaiah 43:2) New International version