I wrote this a few years ago and after an incredibly inspirational night of talk and song at Vanderbilt Divinity School I thought I’d post it for your enjoyment.
Never Swim Alone
Rule #1 Never Swim Alone.
This is one of my rules. When we moved out to the country a while ago I made a list of rules for the children to help adapt to our new surroundings. The pool on the side of the house caused me a few sleepless nights so rule #1 is Never Swim Alone.
I guess I make rules and drill them into my children because of the fear. I could theorize that I do this to help them protect themselves out here in the “wild” but really I think it’s because I don’t want to be alone in my fear. If they end up being wiser for it then so much the better because if I’m looking for another shoe to drop I know it will. A watched pot may not boil but a watched shoe is bound to drop and then before you know it we find a couple of copperhead snakes living in a retaining wall near the house.
Rule #2 Never touch a snake.
Never touch a snake, never put your hand or foot anywhere you can’t see into. Never put your face into a hole in the ground, things like that. Every day for what seems like 6 months I say this to them. And then one glorious day while basking in the cool breeze in back of our house my 5 year old son says, “There is a snake living in here” as he points to the crevice. My response was basically, “HUH?” But sure, enough, there it was. I’ve done a little research on snakes in our area and this was one of the few venomous. Lucky us. Never touch a snake.
We made our way inside. We played inside until the nice man from an animal control company came to claim the snake and the snake’s surprise friend. He asked my son about it. “What did you do when you saw him?” asked the snake man. “I told my mom. She said ‘Never touch a snake.’”
There you go, consistency pays off.
It’s only recently that I have begun to notice the pattern of life becoming consistent again after the unsettling move from the city life we had in Chicago. I find that I look forward to the steady clicking of the clock, the predictable measure of a schedule. I crave the schedule. Every morning is the same, every afternoon ordered and every evening filled with ritual and ordinary time and shoes waiting to drop.
A friend of mine lost her daughter Allison to cancer recently. She was 7 years old. I followed Allison’s progress for most of her illness through email and phone calls and occasional visits. Sandy and I had met a few months earlier for dinner in fact. Hearing her talk about the daily regimen of treatments, medications and tests made my head spin. There was an order to it but each medication and each treatment was utterly dependant on how her body responded in any given moment. They seemed to be at the mercy of this illness and then she said something amazing. She told me she was coaching her son’s soccer team that spring. In the midst of the struggle she was coaching soccer. When I walked her to the car I saw the mass of soccer balls in the backseat. How ordinary it seemed to me. Ordinary Time.
For Allison’s funeral I sent sunflowers because they reminded me of her. I imagined her sitting across from me at American Girl place the day we met there, smiling broadly, missing a couple front teeth and most of her hair. She beamed with joy. Sunflower beaming.
Some things even my “rules” will not cover. Never get cancer. Never die young. So many things are out of my control that to be “consistent” seems an unearthly task. I suppose it is, in fact. I comfort myself late at night with the thought that only God is consistent. Words fail, bodies fail, people fail…
The truth is that I simply cannot protect my children or myself. I cannot protect anyone it seems from the reality of life on this broken planet. I can be as consistent as possible. I can make rules and give instruction. I can confront my fears and pray for release from them. I can do all these things but is it enough?
Never Swim Alone.
The reason we never swim alone is that we might drown and no one would know we were missing. No one would know we were in trouble. No one would be there to go for help, to add us to their prayer chain, to bring meals when we are too tired to cook, to offer to babysit for us when we’ve been at the hospital all day, to give a word of encouragement, to send sunflowers because they remind us of someone we’ve lost, to tell us we are not alone when we feel utterly helpless and no one there to pull us up when the water begins to cover our head.
So, Rule #1 Never Swim Alone.