January 16, 2007
Go Ahead--Pass Me
In the last few months I've started swimming for exercise. I'm not really a swimmer; I just do it once a week to cross-train. However, at 6:00 a.m. at the YMCA, there are many Serious Swimmers. They bring bags of props. They wear caps and goggles. They time themselves. They do the same stroke for an hour. I, on the other hand, am too weak to do the same stroke two laps in a row, so I alternate between four: freestyle, side stroke, back stroke and, um, "kick board stroke." And I never time myself.
The pool is divided into four lanes, in theory to separate the fast from the slow. The "slow lane" is on the far right and the "fast lane" is on the far left. Helpful signs also tell whether you're supposed to swim clockwise or counterclockwise in each lane. At first I assumed (with relief) that the "slow lane" is for people like me. But "slow," I've discovered, can mean anything from swimming laps to treading water to draping oneself over brightly colored noodles. It's difficult to navigate around people with noodles, even if you swim laps as slowly as I do.
So I tried out the second slowest lane. One day I thought I might manage to stay out of the way of the only other person in that lane (a middle-aged man), but he didn't notice me until he ran into me. And of course, he was fast. I moved over to let him go by, but he took that to mean I was bucking the system by swimming clockwise in a counterclockwise lane. When we reached the wall he informed me of my directional error. Well. I wanted to say that I may not be fast but I can read (and get paid to do it for my job, thank you very much)--but I said okay and tried to swim a little faster in a perfectly counterclockwise kind of way.
Last Wednesday the second fastest lane was open, so I jumped in and was soon joined by a pregnant woman. I thought I might have a fighting chance of keeping up, since she was swimming for two. I was wrong. She swam freestyle, lap after lap, while I had to be particularly careful on the side stroke, because I did not want to kick a pregnant woman.
As more people arrived I moved to the second slowest lane so the faster swimmers could have their speed to themselves. There was just one man in the lane then; once I joined him, though, I realized he was wearing: flippers. Twice the kicking power. We fell into a rhythm that worked, however; he passed me every five laps or so.
When he finished, two even faster men joined my lane. Unfortunately for them (and me) it's much more difficult to pass a slow swimmer when there are three people in the lane. I started to panic. I tried to swim faster. I paused at the end of the lane to let them go by me. I might have prayed.
My self-consciousness about my slowness didn't really surprise me. It just reminded me how much I hate to get in the way, to draw attention to myself by hindering others. I don't think others should have to deal with my weaknesses, especially two guys I never met who just want to have a nice (fast) morning swim.
But as I was about to cut the workout short and escape to the locker room, I was struck with a thought: it's all right to get passed. I don't have to keep up; it's okay and even good to have to cooperate with others to make things work. I don't have to buy flippers or leave early when faster swimmers come. In fact, staying and swimming at my own pace can serve as a reminder to me on a broader scale that I'm not called to fit in by keeping up, or to follow a pace set by a culture addicted to speed.
So--I think I'll go for a swim this week too. You can look for me in the pool. I'll be the one doing the side stroke, getting passed.