The parking lot was sparsely populated with random clumps of cars huddled together, basking in the sun. In my heart, I felt a buoyant hope bobble on the surface of my deep. Maybe, just maybe… I could have the pool all to myself.
A sunny Saturday afternoon, people were probably doing anything but thinking of being inside. Preparing themselves for winter with outdoor activities, or playing or hiking or running. Something. Anything.
Somewhere between the entrance to the YMCA and the door out of the locker room into the aquatic center, a familiar transformation took place and not just with my attire. People always ask me how I could swim laps for so long. How could I do it? What did I think about?
Isn’t it… boring?
Words often get stuck somewhere between the language my heart speaks and the words in which my mind thinks. I never quite know how to answer.
But as I pushed open the door to the locker room and stepped onto the tiled surface around the pool, there it was. The pristine, clear, perfectly ordered water with its lines and its temperature control and its government. There it was, regimented in simple, quiet rows. And nobody was swimming, so the water did not so much as breathe…
In my mind, though, it wasn’t a cage or a box or concrete hole in the ground filled with water, keeping me imprisoned and safe all at once. No. To me, the high ceilings filled me with the same awe I felt in a cathedral. This place struck a chord deep in my spirit. Whenever I push open the door to the pool deck, my heart fills with such solemn excitement and reverence. And somewhere, in those first few footsteps across the deck toward the water, I’m no longer on a pool deck at all.
I envision myself stepping onto an empty stage, shrouded in the darkness of minimal lighting. Perhaps only one or two people are cleaning up from the last show, making their rounds through the aisles of an empty auditorium for an audience I do not see. The pool, with her control and rows and “boring” lines… she transforms into the most exquisite grand piano. Nobody ever looked at a piano and thought it was boring. Tedious, perhaps, or difficult or too time-consuming or ‘I can’t do that’… but never boring.
And here, in this quiet, holy place… with my instrument before me… I can compose any song I want.
Perhaps we will begin Dolcissimo. Very sweetly. Saying hello to the water, feeling all the stress and worry and concern melt with the first notes. Adagio. Slowly. Restful. Some days, most days, I try my best for the overall sound of the piece to go smoothly – Legato. I just want all the motions to be right as my fingers dance over the piano keys, in whatever they are doing – backstroke, drills, butterfly, freestyle… 88 keys. In this beginning and ending, I am the part that is limitless.
In our next Movement the tempo moves to Allegro. Lively. Fast. But still, I insist to myself, even as I try to hurry – Legato. Smooth. Your forward is not at the expense of the perfect method of the striking the keys. Sometimes my technique is off. And I do it again. I think harder. I trace the pattern again. And again. But each Refrain is different, even in its sameness.
And the Staccato – the 25 yard sprints pointed and individual. The Presto – Faster than the fastest fast! The Triplet 75s that I hate for their odd unevenness. The Syncopation of the breathing every other stroke, trying to iron it out. The A Tempo after everything – the return to that Legato, the predictable, steady rhythm I always find myself slipping back into. For all of my wishing, my fingers will probably never learn the pattern faster than they know it already…
I find I am a crafty and creative composer… but I wish the music went a little faster. I wish I could master some of those other techniques; that my fingers didn’t always trip over themselves on the way to melody and harmony and those further octaves.
At the end of the day, when I leave my music hall and the grand piano… I am leaving it behind. The glittering evening gown thoughts and the white gloves. The pristine theaters and the red carpets. The thoughts leave me the moment the door shuts on the aquatic center.
I won’t ever perform there. If I did, nobody would ever come to hear me play.
But I get to practice there. I get to practice. In that room. In that place. On that piano. And work and perfect and try, try, try and repeat and do it again. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the opportunity to be alone on a pool deck and sung… but the acoustics are perfect. I imagine the room reverberating the sound of my discipline and my strength. Sometimes, the music is poignant and sad. Most of the time, its playfulness and laughter are clear and vibrant. Always, it is purposed and determined… and beautiful.
Whatever the music, it is always true. Always different. Always alive. Even if it is the same song, over and over and over again.
That’s what I think about. That’s how I can swim so many, many laps. That’s how the time disappears.
Nobody ever looked at a piano and thought it was boring. There may only be 8 lanes. There may only be 88 keys.
But I am limitless.