I am underwater again. Without my glasses, I can barely see, but I know enough to stay in my lane and not disturb the elderly man to my side, in his own lane. We split it, that’s the lingo for us regular public pool lap-swimmers — can we split the lane please? When we cross in opposite directions, me mid-crawl, I almost hold my breath.
He’s running in the water, or running as well as one can with that much resistance. He barely moves but he is determined, calm and steady in his attempt, working his legs and arms. I think of myself 30 years from now, hoping I’m lucky enough to still be braving these waters; hoping my lane partner gives me grace to move as I am able.
It is early morning at an outdoor pool in Santa Monica, California. My bag is on the deck with my towel, phone, wallet and keys. All access to me: gone.
I’ve been lap swimming for 15 years now, in every kind of indoor and outdoor pool you can imagine: from L.A. to Brooklyn, from Montreal to Munich. It is unfussy and decidedly uncool, nothing like a Peloton bike or the latest HIIT workout or even a fancy step counter around your wrist. If you swim in a public pool, like I do, the grime in the bathroom, the slow swimmers, the stink of chlorine alone can deter even the most eager athletes.
Unlike at the beach, where people show off their bikini bodies and perfect beach covers, in the pool, we everyday, workaday lap-swimmers all look absurd in our Speedos and rubber caps and goggles: like insects, unrecognizable. It is a kind of comical democracy.
And then there’s the boredom. Yes, you can improve your stroke, your technique. But where will that get you? To the other end of the pool faster? Just to turn around and go back from where you came? There is, alas, nothing to do but relax into the repetitiveness of the activity; there’s nowhere else to be but in the water, alone with your body and your breath.
But there’s the real joy: I am truly alone. This is the only place, the only time in my life, when I am utterly, blissfully unreachable. Underwater, there is no deeper quiet. Far from the pinging of phones, from the latest news alert, from the noisy world that forever intrudes on our private lives. We have no choice but to go inside, deep into the mysteries that can only be felt in the silence.
Lately, I’ve been trying to figure out how I can bring that kind of focus to the rest of my life, especially during these dark winter months. Too large swaths of my days are spent in a frantic multi-tasking loop. Can I text back a friend and check the New York Times homepage and listen to Adele and help my daughter with new math and throw the laundry into the dryer, all while sautéing onions for dinner? Yes! Yes, I can!
Well, no, not really.
Where else we might find that singular attention: Reading a book on the sofa. Candlelit baths. Snowy walks. A leisurely lunch with a friend. An extended phone call with my mom during which I am doing nothing but listening to her voice. Writing a letter. Baking a cake for a neighbor, putting it together one measurement at a time.
I’m pledging to let the pool act as my guide to quiet this season. I want more of that.
Abigail Rasminsky is a writer, editor and teacher based in Los Angeles. She teaches creative writing at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and writes the weekly newsletter, People + Bodies. She has also written for Cup of Jo about marriage, only children and befriending neighbors.
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