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Monthly Archives: July 2015

When I was a little kid we swam in a small swimming hole at a place called Herschfield Park. It was kind of idyllic, tucked into a wooded area of Pompton Lakes with a play ground filled with swings and slides and shuffleboards and concrete ping pong tables (playing on those was weird).

There were town events there. The high school football field was there and in those days there were lifeguards and such that watched over the little pool in the middle of the Wanaque river that was the park.

There was a dock in the swimming hole. Just this side of the river channel that wandered lazily down stream. From the dock you could dive and swim and do cannon balls and can openers and fly, for a few brief seconds, liberated from the Earth.

And every little kid who had been through the town’s swim classes (blowing bubbles and everything else), wanted to achieve the rite of passage that was swimming out to the dock.

I was no different. I wanted to get out there and jump and splash and cannonball and open cans and fly and clamber back up on the dock and do it over again.

But I was afraid of the swim to get there.

A few years before, I was maybe three or four years old, I had been in a children’s pool with some kids from the neighborhood and it didn’t go so well. I guess you could say I drowned because my mother pulled me from the water blue and unresponsive and managed, through sheer force of will, to revive me by rolling me over her knee.

I don’t remember sputtering back to life like an old, tired car but I do remember going under for the last time. I remember realizing that the pool was too deep for me and that I couldn’t get to the edge to hang on. I remember watching the world of air and sun and blue sky recede as I lost consciousness.

So, you can see why the dock represented a nearly overwhelming challenge for me.

My friend; Paul, who I wrote about in my last post (thanks to all the people who donated), had a little sister; Jeannie, who is still a close friend to this day. And on a certain day, I was standing in knee deep in Herschfield’s water watching all the other kids on the dock.

It seemed so close, but I couldn’t make myself believe I could make it. Jeannie appeared at my side and asked if I was going to swim out to the dock. I shook my head no and she laughed, saying that it’s not that far and to prove it, she jumped into the water and effortlessly squirted out of it at the dock.

Once there she waved me out, yelling that I could do it.

My mother had been watching this and appeared at my side saying that she’d swim with me if I wanted to try.

I must have been reluctant because Jeannie dove off the dock and squirted up out of the water in front of me, saying that they could both swim with me. With two people who swam like fish swimming with you, what could go wrong?

I reluctantly agreed to try and in we went.

To this day I can hear their encouragements, but less in words than in the way they made me feel. They not only believed that I could do it, they knew I could. They believed in me.

And so I swam as if my life depended on it until, very out of breath, my hands closed around the rungs of the ladder to the dock.

I was there! I made it! And for that moment, standing there on the dock, looking at all of the other kids who had made it and those who weren’t yet ready playing in the shallows, I had become a real swimmer.

We were out there a long time and Jeannie taught me how to dive and all sorts of aquatic necessities. Some things I suck at to this day (I always slap my head on the water when I dive), but I was learning at the feet of two masters. Both Jeannie and my mother were amazing swimmers.

I went home that evening a new person.

The swimming hole was closed ages ago by upstream polluters and with the climate warming as fast as it is, only God knows what’s growing in those waters now.

I had completely forgotten about the whole thing until I posted on FB that internal battles are the hardest to fight and that I had to steel my resolve. You see, my wife and I are the authors of a rock opera about climate change and we are working right now, adapting it for the stage. There is a great deal of interest in the show (bizplan just completed) and in many ways this risk is the biggest we’ve ever taken in our lives, but one we’ve been working toward for twenty years. And it’s a story that it so important to the times we are living in.

Any sane person would be afraid of the consequences of our stupidity, but courage–the mastery of fear–is in what you do. Do you pale and back away or do you face it, stare it down, get bloodied by it and move forward¬† anyway?

Jeannie saw that FB post and replied simply:

“You can do this. Remember the dock.”

Thank you, Jeannie. For so many things; thank you.