Random Thoughts

Swimming to victory

... in my element

by Carol Nelson

Six months ago I decided to defy gravity. I joined the Melrose YMCA to swim in the pool. The hardest part was the bathing suit issue but I decided to sign up to swim laps for a half hour, three days a week at 7:00 a.m. When I reached 30 lengths I decided to discontinue counting and to swim five days a week for an hour each day. I was serious.

The pool is 75 feet long. The water is neither cold nor hot. This type of exercise seems to work for me. There is no pain involved and no steps or positions to remember. I am in my element. Instinct, or childhood swimming experience, comes automatically. I feel relaxed and in the zone. I am Pisces--the fish.

It has been quite dark leaving for the Y on weekday mornings. There is always a smile and warm greeting from Lori at the reception desk, but swimming is never very social. I simply swim.

I aspire to do some sort of aquatic, rythmic meditation but of course I drift off into thoughts. Thoughts float. Sometimes I would think about swimming when I was a kid, among the dories moored off Marblehead. Often I thought about whether I might write about this new swimming experience and how.

I took my only writing course at the Boston Adult Education Center in the early 1970's. My teacher was also from Melrose. He was Gerry Nadel who has since left Melrose and this world. One very important idea about writing a short article, he said, was to look for the key .. the telling detail, on which the story turns. He said it would always be there.

And so, one morning as I came about like the Q.E.II, turning, turning .. I saw it. There, hanging on the wall at the shallow end: The flag. The flag that represents our country. The flag that is the symbol of our pride, our fear, our greed, our arrogance. The flag which has become our security blanket and a shroud for 3,875 of our young men and women.

I remembered Spalding Gray, the monologist who wrote "Swimming To Cambodia". I decided to call this piece "Swimming to Victory" because it is as equally unlikely we will win the war in Iraq as it was for Spalding to swim to Cambodia. I would suppose the war in Vietnam broke his heart the way Iraq should break ours. Again.

Perhaps it is unwise to fully, consciously see it. To recognize, to know the key on which the story turns. At the age of 62, Spalding Gray slipped discretely off the back of the Staten Island ferry into the cold deep water.

So. You say. (I can just hear you.) What the heck is this about? A short, senior, semi-success swimming story with two wonderful, peaceful guys dead on the first page? And the flag? What's that all about? Well, I have to say it is the telling detail. The point on which this story turns.

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