Lap swimming at Ridgeland Pool in Oak Park

Publish Date: July 10, 2012

Cap on, goggles raccooning my eyes, I stand shivering in the shallows, and then hop in place, hop a little deeper, but still refuse the jolt of full submersion. Past the backstroke flags I start to swim, head bobbing above the scrim. No matter how often I come here to Ridgeland Pool, my body resists, never trusting, never believing that this is what it wants, what it needs. It fights the water, splashes through the first length, arms spinning and legs kicking up a rooster tail, until at the black T, I jackknife into a flip-turn, letting the water swallow me whole.

By 200 meters I am relaxed, rolling on the long axis with each stroke of freestyle, finding length and height on the recovery, focusing on my grab, feel and follow-through under the surface. The water appreciates my surrender; it surrounds and embraces me. Welcome, swimmer. Carry on.

My eyes follow the thick line that courses the bottom. The angled morning sun paints patterns in the pool. Beneath and beside and above me, water blooms geometrically; hexagonal flowers expand and contract, merge and collapse. I breathe in and pass into them, breathe out and pass through them. Shapes here and gone, there and gone, disappearing beneath me, re-appearing just ahead. My mind settles into long-distance thinking.

I swim this way for an hour, up and back, following the line, flipping at the T. Meditation? Not really. Training? No. What then? Thoughts come and go. I don't try to stop them or move them along. My mind is not racing. My mind is not spinning, as it does some nights when I am lying flat and still on my bed. Here in the pool, my mind welcomes and holds new ideas. Sometimes, they are no more than a flash; sometimes, they dance on the periphery as I front-crawl through a mile.

Sometimes, not judged by my brain, but nurtured and strengthened by movement, they evolve into something unexpected: The start of a story, the narrative structure I could not find, an ending I've long awaited. Not meditation. Not training. Flow: At my writing desk or in the swimming pool, it's when my mind and body support each other, light shimmering through the water and water holding the light.

facebook icontwitter icongoodreads icon