It’s July of 1981. I’m six weeks old. I feel safe in my mother’s arms, but she must be terrified as she clutches me tight and gingerly takes each step down the fifteen-foot dock ladder to the boat. Along with my three-year-old sister and dad, we make it safely to Cumberland Island, Georgia, for the first Render family reunion, and my first introduction to the water. From then on, summer to me has meant swimming.
Growing up in Ohio, we took only occasional trips to the beach, but there were yearly vacations at lakes, and we nearly lived at the pool. On cool mornings, my swimming instructor mother conditioned us to jump right into the cold water and get swimming. She patiently corrected my strokes and pushed me farther than I thought I could go. Most of all, she imparted to me the sheer joy of being in water.
Three years ago, I joined the JCC pool with my one-year-old. She immediately took to the water and we met some of our best friends in Durham. But this May, I found myself cancelling our membership. What was I going to do without those bright mornings at the pool, laughing with other moms, eating picnic lunches, watching my child delight in the water? I had been looking forward to teaching her to swim on her own.
As I write this, I know how privileged I am to be mourning the loss of the swimming pool for a summer. People are dying. Others are putting themselves in harm’s way daily to care for the sick and vulnerable. People are losing their livelihoods. And poor me doesn’t want to face a hot Durham summer with my small nuclear family in the comfort of our air-conditioned home.
Grief works in strange ways. It often feels easier to focus on my personal sense of loss, rather than grasp the full scope of the global tragedy surrounding all of us — and unjustly affecting some of us much more harshly than others. I need to continue balancing care for myself with finding ways to support others.
At RCWMS, we continue help each other through the large and small losses — and bright spots — we’re experiencing, albeit from a distance. This summer’s virtual programs include mindfulness workshops, writing groups, and a class called, “How to Create a Virtual Council Circle.” We miss being in the same room with you. While we wait for that day to come, we hope to see you on Zoom.
The summer after my mother died, I could barely swim laps because I was crying too much. It worked better to float on my back. Last week I finally ordered an inflatable pool for the backyard. It will be big enough for me to sit in and for my four-year-old to learn to float in. Like so many things, we’ll do swimming differently this year. And we’ll reach out and assist those experiencing deeper loss. We’ll remind ourselves: this too, shall pass.