It was the day after I’d spent 17 hours and 39 minutes swimming the English Channel. I sat in the little phone booth with WiFi outside Varne Ridge on my computer busily doing something electronic when a man came to the booth to use the internet. He was obviously a swimmer and so I asked if he had swum yet. He asked in three separate languages if I spoke something other than English. We briefly attempted French, but that was a no go. I had never met a language barrier so thick. We finally gave up, unsure what to do with each other, neither of us willing to resort to pantomimes.
As I returned to my trailer, I noticed that my “Congratulations on Swimming the Channel” banner had fallen down so I went about sticking it back to the window. As I did, I heard a “Hey!” from across the yard and looked up to see my European friend holding a similar banner as he stuck it back on his trailer. We both waved and smiled excitedly, clapping for each other.
Later, I was on my way to town and the man emerged from the phone booth again, holding this glow stick. His glow stick. The glow stick that was attached to his swimsuit during his channel swim.
“Dis is congratulations for you!” He said as he handed it to me.
“Oh, thank you,” I said, both touched and bemused by the gesture and unsure how to respond. “Congratulations to you, too!”
His face clouded with confusion (I think he thought I meant to give it back) and we resumed our language barrier with much nodding and smiling as I accepted his gift.
I got in the car, laughing – honored and slightly befuddled with what to do with somebody’s used glow stick from their Channel swim. I decided, eventually, that it would make a great Christmas ornament. And I put it on the tree with a very broad smile, remembering my non-english speaking friend and what a wonderful experience it was that we shared… No words required.