I swim four times a week. My time in the pool is truly my own. While I am swimming, it seems as if I am all that exists.
My mother taught my sisters and I to swim when we were knee-high to a grasshopper. Mom was magnificent in the water. Her precise strokes often gave her the look of Esther Williams, an American competitive swimmer and actress. It gave her a real kick of energy.
My father came from a family that was afraid of the water. His mother cautioned him to stay out of pools and lakes, as they were dangerous. Throughout his life, dad never learned how to swim, but he approved of mom instructing us. No doubt, he knew the Gemara in Tractate Kiddushin, which states that a father is obligated to teach his son Torah, a trade and to swim, as well as to find him a wife.
In the summertime, our family would frequently go to Bingemans park in Kitchener, Ont., where we’d spend the day on the beach, frolicking and swimming the way children do. Mom called it “heaven.” Dad would often join us, despite his busy rabbinical schedule. That was a treat. He would always have a sefer with him and spend his time learning Torah. Dad would initiate his time at the park by dipping his toe in the water, or walking in the shallow area, a ritual that seemed to reflect his desire to swim.
I have a distant memory from our time at Bingemans, in which I believe I was drowning. (Apparently, memories of almost drowning are quite common.) I think I was five and I was in a flotation device with a dragon’s head, treading freely. Little waves began to carry me away from my family. I remember feeling frantic and thinking that everyone around me was happy, but I was about to drown.
Somehow, I reversed the direction I was floating in and saved myself. This entire incident likely took a moment. Nobody believed I was about to drown. But I thought I was.
My mother used to swim 100 laps a day in her condo’s swimming pool. She was known as the pool lady and her neighbours would marvel at her stamina and passion for swimming well into her 80s. Eventually, I moved into the same building and I, too, took to swimming regularly. Sometimes, we’d swim together, but we’d rarely converse, so that we could accomplish our goals.
Mom used to say that she’d leave all her troubles in the pool. I think that was the case, especially as she got older and her brother, Menashe, passed away, making life that much tougher. I used to joke while I was swimming that I would often see one of her troubles floating by me. It would slowly dissipate and ultimately disappear. Yet the water remained unpolluted.
Being in the water feels as if we are being called back to the womb. There is a peacefulness to it, a serenity, especially when you are underwater and the incessant noises of the world are no longer. The greater buoyancy we experience reflects the enchantment one might feel walking on the moon.
I swim a lot nowadays, and while I might bump my head on the end wall from time to time, I cherish the times when I am up to my neck in water and the world is entirely still. There’s nothing like it.