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Did you ever watch people who aren’t comfortable in water attempt to swim? It’s ugly. They splash and kick and thrash—using enough energy to make it across the English Channel—and…they sink. Next comes well-deserved panic.
Water is an unforgiving friend. Fight it, and it fights you. Love it, and it cradles you as you keep yourself afloat. When water is in a bad mood—cresting in white-tipped waves—it has less tolerance. When water is in a rage—slashing its way down a hillside, into a riptide, or out of the banks of a river—it becomes an enemy. You’re going to need your strength, cunning, and lots of luck to be able to walk away.
Swimming isn’t a bad analogy for life. Some people are afraid to jump in. They spend their lives wearing the equivalent of floats—drifting with the current, never wondering where other channels lead, never leaving the confines of man-made water attractions. They see only what the attractions give them to see. They never discover what they might have accomplished had they learned to swim. They may berate themselves for being unable, as though it’s an incurable condition, when they don’t want to learn. It’s too much work. They say they aren’t the type. They surrender to fear or sloth. They reach the end of life with a sigh.
Those who make the effort of learning to swim recognize their responsibility in deciding the direction of their lives. They know they need to acquire certain skills—in love, parenting, self-reliance, job performance, social interaction, etc.—to be able to access the kind of life path they want. They make choices that take them off the beach. When the water is calm, they feel empowered, but—if they’re honest with themselves—they know Nature’s waters don’t stay calm. They need to develop coping skills—how to swim over swells or through waves. They need to be adaptable as the currents change. They reach the end of life breathing hard, usually glad they took the trip.
Now and then, life sends people careening over a waterfall or sucks them into a flood. Suddenly, the old techniques aren’t adequate. Now they have to rely on their will to live. Some eventually give up and drown—yielding to despair, panic, or even suicide. But some will insist on finding a way through. They may experience a sense of guilt that they were able to survive when others didn’t, but they have a chance to build life beyond the fear of death.
Finally, some people deliberately challenge the water—to save someone else or even to embrace the thrill. They accept danger as part of the swim, relishing the sweet taste of survival. They don’t focus on living long, preferring to live intensely. My dad learned to swim by leaping into the center of a river from a bridge after his older brothers. He refused to be less. I haven’t leapt into a river, but I follow the rest of his example. I swim as hard as I can. My technique isn’t always pretty, but I don’t give up.