I sat at the edge of the dark green pool and shook. There was no choice but forward, and yet the fear of sinking was gripping my heart. I knew I had let my fears build up this year, because last year I had attacked each swim in the slot canyon as it came, but in doing so I had learned my limitations. I had learned that without rescue, I could not make it.
It was a short pool, some in our group had gone across, others were waiting, and still I didn’t move. I had taken a few swimming lessons during the year (in a clear blue pool with sides to grasp and lifeguards close by), but had not practiced enough. Now I was afraid that desire and mental knowledge were not sufficient. I had not internalized the rhythm of stroking and breathing to where it was automatic.
It may have only been thirty seconds, or a lifetime, but I knew the decision had already been made. It was too late to do anything else, so I went. I moved my arms and legs like I had been taught and nearly made it across before the panic took over and I began to kick randomly. Still, I made it. Everyone congratulated me.
The next swim went better, but then, after squeezing between two rock walls while my legs dangled in deep water, and going under a log by hanging onto grooves in the wood, I found I couldn’t let go. Behind me, a dark pool led to a slick wall. The only way back was up wet webbing that I had barely held onto coming down. Ahead, a far longer swim that I knew I could not do.
Fear is “an unpleasant and often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger.” Different people have different fears. I have lived kindly patient, but without any reference point for what they were feeling. I didn’t understand before what real fear was. I had not been disabled to the point of tears because of an anticipated danger. (Except once, but that’s another story, and it also involves deep water.)
Empathy comes from our own experiences. It comes from knowing how the other person feels because we have felt the full grip of that emotion too.
While hanging from the log above me, I called to my daughter’s boyfriend, who is a strong swimmer. He came back for me and while I held to his pack with one hand, and stroked with the other, while kicking like a frog, he took me through the channel. Perhaps, I dodged a growth experience. I think I accepted my own limitation (and lived to tell about it).
The last swim I made on my own. Then I cheered. (A few smiled—but most were oblivious to the moment I was having.)
So where was my faith?
At one point we discussed the idea of prayers that ask God to protect us before such adventures. Essentially: “Bless that we will be safe while we undertake this fool-hardy journey filled with life-threatening danger.” Is he shaking his head and asking, “Seriously?”
My sister told me at the end of the 9 hour hike that she had recalled a poem that I had reminded her of. It is told by Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh.
You’re braver than you believe,
And stronger than you seem,
And smarter than you think.
That really touched me.
However, when everyone had decided to take a detour and swim back to a hidden water fall to duck beneath it and marvel at the wonderful place, I had declined. I just didn’t believe I could do it.
*The picture shows the place of the longer swim from the cavern we entered with a down-climb using webbing. The water this year was higher, and a log is now wedged just below the stone.