There was a madness to the darkness. A cloud covered sky perforated now and then with hiccups in its canopy allowed for a star or two to shine distantly. When the moon rose, she rose orange – dripping the bold color through an unclear haze. I’m not sure that anybody else saw the moon. I’m not sure why I was looking at it.
All around me was the madness that drowned the night in a strange, hushed, anxious hum. People busy and busier and all business about things. I wanted to be useful. I wanted my mind to instruct my body intuitively in the ways of what it meant to be apart of the crew for an open water marathon swim. I wanted more than anything to seamlessly slip into the tide of the madness around me and to help bring some order in my so doing.
No such luck. I had to ask what to do. I had to ask where to help. First aid kits, radios, extra batteries, blankets, sleeping bags, sweatshirts, Gatorade, water… on and on and on. The list was endless and time slipped by. And you knew that something would be forgotten. Not everything will be thought of. Whispers and chatter, footsteps heavy on metal gangways and wooden ramps, the gentle sigh of night, and there, in the background – if you really listened – you could hear the water.
I loved it all.
All our rushing. All our Madness. It caught us up in a whirl and deposited us along the slipway. And into the welcoming sound of the water lapping at that slipway, bold swimmers entered a deeper silence, a deeper darkness. I stood there watching. Waiting. Cheering. And I understood their part in all of this. I knew why they did it. I understood them. I longed to be one of them walking into that water. Because the swimming made so much sense. The water made so much sense. I know why they swim.
… but the more I stood on the shore, the more I wondered-
Midnight saw them off into the water. Boats ahead, boats alongside, boats around. Glowsticks littered the night with color. We waited. We continued. The sounds hummed. Time spun. I’m sure I laughed. I’m sure I sang. And asked. And helped. And held things and delivered things and assisted people. Anything I could do to keep the madness to a hum. We stayed it and ourselves.
One A.M. saw them off into the water. I watched them go until I could not see anything save the lights that marked them.
Now it begins.
25 miles. Newport, VT to Magog, Quebec. A swim the length of Lake Memphremagog. Beginning at midnight and carrying over until the next afternoon.
Why? Why would you do it, Bethany? Why would you swim so far?
And into the boat we went and off into the night we charged. I fell asleep at some point when my exhaustion and my uselessness decided that such action was permissible. And I woke back up to help again, and watched swimmers and boats in the darkness passing from the United States to Canada… and then I fell back asleep again. But I was never beyond the sound of the voices on the radios.
The morning came gray. Dark clouds and hints of wind.
Trouble was no stranger. How could she be? All of the hours. All of the madness. All of the opportunities for things to be inconvenient, or to go wrong, or to become dangerous…
We have to make sure they get there. That is what we do. We make sure that these swimmers get from Newport to Magog, all 25 miles. Because they can. I know they can. And we troubleshoot. We help. Or, at least, we try. We think on our feet and with very little sleep and learn and observe and hope and pray and work our hardest and best to make it as possible as it ever can be to swim from here to there. We have to. We have to make sure they get there.
Why, Bethany? Why would you ever swim so far?
Until the shore is beneath each one’s feet, we keep on. Waves in excess of 3 feet at times. Winds howling. Gray skies swirling. Crews up all night and battling to keep tin can motorboats on straight courses beside swimmers. Sitting on hard seats, unable to move around or to get comfortable. Watching time with each stroke, ever vigilant guardians. Purposed, determined. They place, before themselves, somebody else’s dream. Somebody else’s success. Working so tirelessly to ensure it, how do they still smile?
How could you ever ask anybody to help you swim so far?
“I know you can do this,” I found myself whispering to them all, swimmers and crew alike. “I know you can do this.”
And they did. One by one. I didn’t get to see them finish. I didn’t get to be there. I was still out in the wind and waves and the sky and the water. Singing my sea-faring songs. Dancing with the lake and smiling my own sunshine to whoever still needed it. Until they finished. Until it was, at long last, done.
There is no sweeter satisfaction than completion.
Soon it was our turn to be done. The shore can be beneath our feet once again. The sky opened up and cried her tears, but the wind and waves had watered us beyond realizing it was raining. So used to her companionship, we hardly noticed that we might be getting more wet.
“You did a good job, today,” I said to one of the support boat crew members.
“Yeah,” he said with a smile. “It was a good swim.”
My curiosity and wonder getting the best of me, I asked, “How did you get into this?”
“My wife, she volunteers at IROC, the gym that this supports,” he said. “She volunteers us for this stuff.”
I laughed. “Does she?”
He laughed, too. “Well, actually… I don’t mind. You know, I started walking at IROC last year. I lost 30 pounds. I ended up cancelling my knee surgery.”
“Really?” I asked, kind of astounded.
“Yeah,” he said. “Well, postponing it indefinitely, anyway.”
I smiled… feeling warm deep, deep into my heart, then. For a reason that my tired brain neglected to formulate into words at the time.
Finally, a car to sit in and I sat in the back and looked out the window. Tears running down my face, my heart so full of such accomplishment. They did it, you know. They swam the whole way. They did. And I knew they could do it! And I know I can do it. I just know that I can.
Why, Bethany? Why would you ever swim so far? How could you ever ask anybody to help you swim so far?
“I just love swimming,” I said to myself –and I hope it wasn’t out loud. In my best, most pathetic state of mind ever – tears running down my face, in the back of that van on the way home from Canada after that oh-so-incredible swim.
“I just love swimming.”
Who needs a reason to do something that they know they can do? I mean… really? If it’s in you, if you were born to do something… how much do you rob the world around you by not aspiring to do whatever it is that you were designed to do?
How many people can you help?
How many can you inspire?
How many people will help you because they just see you? I know, it’s weird… and who knows why, but people believe in you. They want to be a part of what you are doing and who you are. Don’t rob them of that. Let them be.
And let yourself… Be! Become! Do something! Don’t be shy. Don’t be afraid. You can do this! Whatever it is. I know you can do it. I just know that you can.
…and so can I.