With the devastation taking its toll on the residents of Texas, it is heartwarming and downright encouraging to see the real soul of humanity being exposed for the world to see. Raw and unembellished stories of people risking their lives helping others without a moment’s hesitation, forming human chains to rescue a stranded driver of a stalled vehicle or an animal caught in a swirling current, steering their fishing boats and checking houses one at a time. The rain, dumping buckets of water, washed away homes, cars, enveloped major highways and buildings. But the rain washed away something more. In the midst of this deluge, the rain washed away color, ethnicity, religion and thankfully, division. Without fanfare, unsung heroes and heroines jumped into action to help their community. Why does it seem to take a catastrophic event to bring a halt to the division and bring back the best of human nature again?
I believe I found my answer one afternoon at my son’s swim meet.
I like to think my son is athletic…not the football, muscle bound type but rather the lean, running type. He’s always been involved with one sport or another but usually when he felt the urge. Long ago, as a tadpole, he loved swimming but that particular urge had faded nearly five years ago. So, when he decided to join the high school swim team his senior year, the announcement left his father and I scratching our collective heads. My son is no Michael Phelps…far, far FAR from it. But his exuberance was so contagious, we kept our opinions to ourselves, shrugged our shoulders and went along for the ride.
Yesterday, he and his team competed against another local high school. As far as crowds go, a fair number of parents, friends, siblings and visitors gathered to watch their diversified team despite a threatening thunderstorm which failed to materialize. A nice cloud cover provided a respite from the sun and the meet began. I snagged a chair with a bird’s eye view near one end of the pool, took out my tablet to pass the time while waiting for my son’s events.
If you have personally ever watched a swim meet, the first thing you realize as a parent is this. Once they put on the swim cap and goggles, it’s very hard to identify your child. Secondly, once they hit the water, it becomes damn near impossible. Thirdly, unless your child is a super, superstar, it’s kind of like watching paint dry…no offense intended.
Since I hadn’t spied my son on deck, I took an interest in the ongoing relay taking place in front of me, hoping I hadn’t missed his leg of the race. Being a relay, there were four team members and although they had already called the winner, everyone was waiting for the last straggling swimmer to complete his leg. Out of the four or five lanes, he was the only one remaining in the pool.
I can’t think of anything more agonizing…knowing the race is over and you have two laps left to finish. There’s just you…silently struggling to keep your mind on the task at hand, battling the fatigue and numbness overtaking your limbs, your arms now slapping the surface instead of slicing through the water. Coming up for breath, your throat burns as your lungs strive to suck in as much as air as possible, your legs slowly losing the will to kick and fighting the discouraging knowledge everyone is watching you.
As this young man struggled to reach my end of the pool, I could hear him gasping for breath as he paused before turning for his final lap…seemingly a mile away. He was a strapping fellow, broad shouldered and strong but this particular event was kicking his butt. I remember thinking, “He’s not going to make it. He’s completely exhausted.”
Then a surprising thing happened. Everyone rose to their feet, approached the edge of the pool and began shouting, encouraging him, loud and strong. The separation of team colors melted away as they came together to yell their support, willing him to find that last ounce of reserve to make it to the finish line. The sound was almost deafening.
Three races later, the same thing happened happened again. The race had been called leaving one lone swimmer to complete his last long leg by himself. Everyone, including me, rose up again to shout words of encouragement and cheer him to the finish line. They continued to applaud as his two of his friends, including my son, pulled him out of the pool when he touched the wall, his legs unable to summon the strength. It didn’t matter what school they represented, what religion they observed, the color of their skin or where their family came from. They were simply young swimmers doing what they loved.
And there is was…a golden nugget of evidence that all is not lost. That the thread of unity and love for our fellow man does exist in everyday circumstances. It’s there and it’s something we need to hold on to.
In the universal scheme of things, this meet will soon fade into the memory banks of most of the parents, swim coaches and team mates. Then again, maybe not. I know for certain there are at least three people who will cherish this event: those two swimmers who will forever remember the cheers, encouragement and vocal support urging them not to give up at a point in time when they probably felt most alone.
And me…who was lucky enough to witness something so very special first hand and write about it.