I love swimming. I am also very scared of drowning.
I swim to work out, especially in the winter and colder months. I also bicycle the summer and surrounding warmer months. I swim in a pool with a certified lifeguard sitting right there, never more than 50 feet away, and it is not unusual for me to be by myself in the pool.
There is something dangerous about the water. Even if it is warm, and chlorinated, and thick plastic lane markers are floating along its length 6 feet apart.
I first swam as an adult in 1997. Flush with a severance package I joined the JCC gym for a year. During that time “Titanic” came out. While my face is in the water and even when I am on my back, my fevered mind kept imagining what it was like to be dumped into the frigid arctic North Atlantic. With no recourse. Millions of people have died of drowning, one way or another. Every time I swim several moments occur when I worry what would happen if I lost control of my body, even just coordination – my overactive mind swirls to what it must feel like to drown. Either miscalculate where my mouth is as my body moves, or give up after holding my breath too long, and open your mouth and take a breath but there is nothing but water filling your mouth, flooding into your lungs.
(I knew a young man who drowned swimming out too far into the Niagara River – so I do feel creepy writing that.)
But on the floor above the JCC pool, in the gym filled with equipment, however badly you goof up on a stationary bike or treadmill, you still get to breathe. Even if you bang your head and die instantly, your still COULD breathe if you had some kind of “Spock’s Brain” remote control blinking away on your head.
Of course I’ve already had a heart attack – and swimstroking makes me aware of my “zipper” – so I have the ever present fear that even some momentary “cardiac event”, which would normally just leave me crumpled on the floor but gasping to recover, would, in the water, be my last moment.
But when that fear, those thoughts, are not squirreling on in my head, the water can feel like a lover, holding me, primal. Like I have returned to Simplicity. Facing my fear is worth it.