A Portrait and A Memory

I was early.  The swim team was still swimming strong.  5 or 6 kids to a lane, crowded in.  They moved in perfect coordination.  It reminded me of a dance scene from a musical.  Motion: fluid, steady, consistent, orchestrated motion.  Back and forth.  The vaulted ceiling of the pool room was catholic in nature; bespeaking some awe-inspiring holiness.

I was impressed, catching my breath.  Awed.  By the swimmers.  By the surroundings.

A break in the motion caught my eye.  I looked toward it and saw a small boy, the end of a long line of swimmers, falling behind his teammates.  His separation was slow, but the gap was enough to draw my attention.  His teammates remained spaced evenly, swimming along at similar speeds that they could maintain.

He only fell farther and farther behind as the clock ticked the seconds away.  I found myself paused, holding my breath.  His freestyle… well…it looked like the way I feel when I swim.  It truly did.  Smooth.  Maybe a touch too deliberate.  His elbows were high.  He glided his arms along  as if they were on tracks beside his body.

Then the gap began to close… as the other swimmers began to overtake him.  I bit my lip and tensed…waiting for it.  Their progress was so steady.  They didn’t look up.  I held my goggles and my swim cap to my heart, watching as the fastest kid reached out…  There!  His hand crashed into the other one’s ankles.  I smiled sadly.

The little boy stopped swimming and moved aside, routinely, into the middle of the lane.  He began to tread water there, waiting for the long line of others to pass him.  His hair was reddish brown.  His freckles speckled his nose and cheeks.  His goggles were dark and I couldn’t see his eyes.

I waited, too, for the other swimmers to go around him.  It took so painfully long for them to go by.  They hadn’t all passed him, when the first one hit the wall and headed back.  Suddenly, the little boy was caught in the middle of the lane, surrounded by swimmers on all sides.  He was awash in their turbulence, fighting to tread water and keep his head above the waves they created.   Still, he waited his turn.

What are you going to do?  I wondered in his direction.

And the last one finally passed.  Without hesitating, the little boy rolled back into the void left in their wake.  Back again.  Behind them.  With a hard kick and several strong pulls, he continued swimming.  Arms on tracks.  Elbows high.  Smooth.

I smiled.

You can do this.

The gap began to widen again.

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