I have been trying to put words to these feelings for weeks … and as I glide or gasp or just plain focus on my breath, sometime distracted by the glistening jews of light dancing on the water’s surface in the middle of the pond, or thoughts bobbing though my mind of the water temperature; …yes, it is still warm, warmer than the air… then why am i sensing goose bumps on my thighs???… I plan all the things I will note down when I am dripping back on the main beach; but never do. So the words have never come. And the weeks roll on. And now the end is here.
Tomorrow is Labor Day and today Walden is weeping chilly tears in preparation.
Why do words not come? Because swimming has been uniformly wonderful, finding that power of propulsion that moves me through not only water but the pain of some unknown shoulder strain, which one part of me argues you should be resting this, to which the other responds, soon enough, soon enough … it will be a short season this year. The water is cooling prematurely and I am not tolerating the cold as well as I have in the past…
But there is another reason I am feeling the end so acutely this year, and why when I wrap up in my towel around me after my swim, I forget all about those images and sensations from the middle of the pond. There are feelings and friendships out of the pond too which have sustained me this season.
I am standing with my back to the pond, the sun is fierce upon it, a feeling that I have always found nurturing, and is especially comforting now as I am dripping wet. The head lifeguard tells me this is his last day. It is still a week before Labor Day. He, like most of the life guards is a college student, and is returning to school. “Though maybe I’ll come back next weekend,” he adds.
“I’m going to miss you guys,” I reply.
I first started leaving my gear in front of the lifeguard table because of the sun. Anywhere I could find a tiny patch of warmth to stand in after swimming on a cool day, or anywhere where I could leave my gear in the shade, but be close to where I could move into the sun when I finished swimming on a hot day. And that happened to be the stone steps in front of the bath house. Pretty soon I got to talking to the lifeguards…
If today, a cool wet day were mid season the lifeguards might be sitting around their table chatting and telling jokes. There would be very few people on the beach today… they also be practicing drills, preparing for the emergencies and for routine safety checks… or they might be taking note of swimmers like me who venture out in less than great conditions…
Other days I have wandered out after my swim to bunch of red short and shirted young people standing around a young mother holding a toddler. She had just gone under and one of the guards, still dripping wet had sprinted across the sand as the call came in and plunged in to scoop her out. The toddler seems confused from the ordeal, but is medically unharmed. The mother both still holding the remnants of what might have been is relaxing with an enormous sense of gratitude which she pours over all the young guards surrounding her.
Another day I wander up and join a conversation about a recent incident. It has been a bad week, both with one life lost, a young man who could not swim going under late on a busy Sunday… after the lifeguards have finished their day’s work… and then early one morning … before the scheduled life guard start for the day, a man standing on the boat ramp with binoculars seeing an elderly man holding onto the ropes and flailing his arms in the air. The young man races along the sand is joined by an off duty policeman who is walking down onto the beach. He swims out to bring him in and commences CPR.
But it is the last incident that causes me to act. And again this unfortunate event happened outside lifeguard hours. When I heard about it, it prompted me to enroll in a free CPR course that my local town was offering. How would I feel if I was that policeman wandering down the ramp and I was suddenly called upon to help? Would I feel confident enough to do so? I want to know that I would be able to make a difference. That I would know what to do.
So tomorrow is Labor Day and it promises to be a busy day at the pond. It’s the last day of the season and the lifeguards will be packing up their gear and closing their doors for the winter. On Tuesday the ropes will come down, something I usually look forward to … having free range to swim in the pond again. But somehow this year it feels different. Something will be missing.
Someones will be missing.
My gear will stand alone in front of the bath house … unguarded.