I once read that it is a wonder many of us dare to venture out of the house, so bombarded are we with, “Don’t talk to strangers!” and, “Stranger danger!” Every stranger, every person we do not know is deemed to be a threat to our well-being. Of course, some are, but so are some of your closest, most toxic friends or relatives. Sometimes, however, a stranger can be just what we need.
Today I was swimming. As the clock passed 5pm, the pool became crowded and swimming lengths went from dodging the two ladies swimming side by side, to swimming a gauntlet of splashing kids and unaware adults. Reluctantly, I moved to the designated slow swim lane, which was, in the middle of the pool. Oh.God. I decided to do half lengths in order to avoid the dreaded deep-end-in-the-middle-of-the-pool. Only two people were in the lane, so I thought I could get away with it. However, after two or so half lengths, a middle-aged man stopped behind me and said, “Why are you only swimming half lengths?” Oh shitI thought, he’s going to have a go at me or say I’m in the way. “I’m scared of the deep end!” I told him. To my surprise, he said sympathetically,”Oh dear, are you?”
“Yes,” I replied, “I’ve swum every week for years and it just happened a couple of years ago. It was a stressful year and one day I just freaked out in the deep end and had to get out completely.”
It was actually while I was doing my MA, and suddenly random things started to frighten me: swimming in the deep end or away from the wall of the pool; driving up small hills or over bridges that crossed rivers.
“I can swim in the deep end, but I need to stay near the wall.”
“Well, you just keep going at it,” said the stranger. He had white hair and a deeply lined face, but somehow seemed youthful and ageless. “I’ll even swim behind you for a bit if you want to give it a go,” he added.
“Thank you,” I replied, “I’ll push myself bit by bit,” and we swam in opposite directions.
However, I didn’t push myself bit by bit. I swam back to the shallow end and thought, this is it. I started swimming, reached the halfway point and carried on. I focussed on the other end of the pool, not the sides or how far I was from them, and swam right into the deep end. I reached the wall and took a deep breath, elated, before swimming back. I passed the stranger who smiled and said, “I’m proud of you.” I almost cried when I got back to the shallow end. I couldn’t believe that I’d swum to the deep end in the middle lane of the pool. There was no panic, no fear that I couldn’t touch the bottom; just me, swimming like I always used to. I continued with another 10 or 12 lengths, unwilling to stop after conquering my irrational fear.
Why could I do it tonight and not the countless other nights I’ve been swimming? I think it was just telling someone; someone who did not know me at all. Of course, family and friends knew, but none of them are regular swimmers or love swimming like I do. Saying it out loud to someone who was in the water with me at that moment allowed me to cast off my fear. There was no pressure to push myself, but I guess subconsciously I knew that there was someone who would notice if I did.
We chatted briefly after my exhilarating swim. The stranger was called Dave and spoke a bit about the power of the mind and clearing it with meditation and breathing. Sometimes, the smallest, most random encounters can change your life. Swimming in the middle, in the deep end was a big deal for me tonight. After two years of swimming by the sides, all it took was a few kind words from a stranger to make me push forwards.
Thank you, Dave.