We’ve all heard the term “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” We’ve all sat in our classrooms, homes, workplaces, let our teacher, parent, or boss repeat it again and again. We’ve all heard it so much that it begins to lose meaning. We’ve all let it flow over us, letting it wash over our surface, but never go any deeper. Haven’t we all? I certainly have. It’s a term that I’ve heard a million times, but a million out of a million times, I missed the meaning of it. The lesson, the meaning was one that I had to learn over my lifetime.
Back when I was younger, I’d always thought swimming was easy. My brother used to do it all the time. Always flowing in and out of the water, making it look effortless. Logically, the only thing I wanted to do was jump in the water, with as much grace and natural talent as he had. So I did, with all my three-year-old talent, I didn’t know how to swim. And popped out no less than five seconds later, crying for my mother. I learned that day that you cannot breathe underwater.
My feeling of discomfort around water was growing steadily worse. A year later, I was at a river with my family and others. I quickly went into my own little creative world, and started building a house with stray sticks. It came together quite well, all things considered, but it needed a roof. And the perfect stick came floating down the river. I reached for it, straining to grab a hold, when the massive rock I was perched on gave way. The last time I had gone underwater, I had done it intentionally, and in a swimming pool. It’s easy to imagine my shock as I unintentionally tumbled into this fast-flowing river. My childlike instincts told me to do one thing; scream. So, I screamed, being taken by the current. I was in no control of my body, sheer instinct was taking over, yet all the instinct in the world did not keep my head above the water for long. I didn’t know how to swim.
I don’t entirely remember the details of what happened next. I was told that my mother was the first to jump in, apparently she got a hold of me for a second, but I was pulled away. Just after, another man from the party pulled me out, saved me from my terrible reality of being washed away. My undying fear of the water was established, and I couldn’t look at any amount of water that was larger than me without feeling terribly anxious. I didn’t know how to swim.
My father took my brother and I to the swimming pool, every Sunday after that. My brother was an avid swimmer, breezing through his lessons and passing course after course. I, on the other hand, was barely confident enough to sit at the edge of the pool, legs in the water. It probably isn’t surprising to mention how they called a lifeguard on me after my brother had pushed me into the pool as a joke. I freaked out that badly, they thought I was drowning. I did too, I didn’t know how to swim.
Some three years later, I was enrolled in my first swimming class at the age of seven. My fear was still there, almost overpowering. But alongside it, I felt that the water and I had reached an understanding. There was this firm undercurrent of logic, I knew the theory behind swimming, and all I had to do was put it into practice. I didn’t know how to swim, and I was taking that challenge head-on.
I attacked the swimming pool with a burning passion, a burning desire to prove to both myself and the water that it will not best me. I took those lessons seriously, more intently than I had ever seen my brother do.
Eventually, that day came when I looked at the swimming pool, and it looked back at me, and we were equals. Nothing but.
I finished my classes, all fear having evaporated. I knew both consciously and subconsciously how to deal with water, and it only felt fitting to return back to where it all began. I went back to that park, that place, stared where a proud rock used to stand, unbreakable and powerful. That rock fell, as all other rocks have and will do, leaving only more space for water. I felt the irresistible urge to dive back in to the heart of my trauma, that river.
But this time, I knew how to swim.