Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Splash!

I just got home from taking my little pals to school.  For over a week Satish, Danta, and I had looked forward to spending a little quality morning time together before I dropped them off on my way to run errands.  A little snow won't get me down...especially when it comes to those two fellas.  By the time I arrived at the house, their sister's school had already cancelled for the day, but the boys didn't mind that she got to sleep in while they had to get up and get dressed.  Over chocolate chip pancakes, we talked about the NFL games we had watched over the weekend and who they think might make it to the Super Bowl this year.
Danta has high hopes for the Carolina Panthers.  Satish is rooting for the Patriots.  And while I listened carefully to everything they told me about the stats for each team, I really don't understand it all.  Still, as the boys grow older (Satish will be eleven in two weeks!), it's great to be able to talk with them about sports and school and everything in-between.  As they gobbled up the last few bites, I thought about the Monday nights when they were little and I would put them to bed after reading a storybook or two.
"Satish...do you remember the time I read you Froggy Learns to Swim and I asked you what your favorite word was?"
He shook his head.
"You said it was poof as in making something disappear when you're doing a magic trick."
"That's not my favorite word now," he said, shoveling in another bite of pancake.  "It's SPLASH!"
"Hey!" I beamed.  "That's my favorite word, too!  And it has been ever since I was a kid."
Satish smiled as if that was no surprise to him at all.
"I like it because when you say it, splash sounds like what it does," I explained.
"Yeah...that's right," he nodded.  "Spl...a...sh!"
Onomatopoeia never sounded so sweet. 

Last Friday I had my very first swim lesson.  Sure I've been in and out of the water since I was a kid, hanging out at the local pool, body surfing in the ocean, or dangling my feet over a dock whenever I've been lucky enough to visit a lake.  I can backstroke and sidestroke and dive.  But I didn't know how to simultaneously freestyle and breathe...until my friend, Melissa (who's a swimmer extraordinaire) took some time to show me a few pointers.
After we had warmed up at bit, she said, "Okay...show me what you've got."
I laughed.  "I got nothin'."
"Really?"
"Yeah.  I have no clue what to do," I told her.  "We can start at the beginning...I'm a blank slate."
When she told me to keep my arms up overhead, put my face in the water, and push off from the wall to see how far I could go, I pulled on my goggles and did what she asked, making frothy waves with my feet until I ran out of breath.
"Man, you've got a strong kick!" she laughed.  "Let's see if you can relax a little more and stroke."
I picked up on that pretty easily, then moved on to learning the breathwork.  Not an easy thing, especially since I'm not quite sure where to put my head when I turn my neck (something I'm learning both inside and outside of the pool).  Melissa was patient, kind, and encouraging, so before I knew it, I was able to go back and forth a few times with moderate success.
"Keep your eyes on the bottom of the pool or on the side when you breathe," she explained.  "That will help you float a little more, so your legs don't have to do so much work."
I thought, Focus on the vertical line and horizontal line...just like I do on my yoga mat.  While it wasn't easy, freestyling felt more natural when I let my body float on the surface and my arms gently guide me forward. 
Yesterday I spent part of the afternoon practicing at the gym and even though I still don't completely understand the movement, I love the freedom of being completely surrounded by water...no splashing necessary.  Over time, I imagine my inner-mermaid will come to life, and swimming will become a moving meditation.  But until then, I'll keep reminding myself what I often say to new clients:  You've only been doing this for a few hours out of your whole life.  Be patient...don't rush...it'll come along.

Two years ago this month I self-published my memoir, then the backlog of books I've been writing since 2000.  Last spring I published The Lace Makers and while it's been well received by readers who are familiar with my work, there's been no real interest from the world at large.  When I was younger, I had hoped that one or more of my books would make a big splash in the literary community, that an agent or a publishing house would read my work and offer me the opportunity of a lifetime. 
Alas, that hasn't come to pass...yet.
Thank God.
For I've learned that while making a big splash may be a lot of fun and rock the waters for a moment, one small drop in a pond can create never-ending ripples that float on the surface and gently stir the waters beneath.  It's been a lesson of a lifetime to learn patience, to discover how to wait for circumstances to change, to accept that the process of life is often more important than the end result. 
As 2016 dawns, I've been given the rare opportunity to write a book with my friend, Tony, about his nearly four decades of experience as a Rolfer.  We started this past weekend after he told me the prognosis for his cancer treatment.  A lengthy surgery is planned that will result in a twelve-month recovery.  Hopefully by this time next year, we'll be opening up a smaller office in which he can continue to work with clients and teach classic Rolfing.  In the meantime, I'll be interviewing Tony about everything from Jujitsu principles to the experience of working with over a thousand people, watching their continual and often miraculous evolution. 
At the onset, I was incredibly intrigued.  Now that we've started, I'm humbled by the knowledge and wisdom I'll be privy to as the manuscript unfolds into something neither of us can quite explain right now.
When I asked Tony if he had any ideas about the format, he replied, "Why don't you just ask me questions, although I don't know if I'll be able to answer them.  All I can think about is the surgery."
I nodded, turning on the tape recorder.  Gently I said, "Why don't we start at the beginning.  How did you first become introduced to Rolfing?"
Tony began to speak effortlessly about grad school, his mentors, his first meeting with Ida Rolf.  His voice shifted, became more calm and clear.  I stopped taking notes and sat in silence, for I trusted that everything I needed to know would be captured on tape, and I didn't want to miss a moment of listening to Tony unfold this incredibly dynamic part of his life.
Later, when he was talking about training at the Rolf Institute, I asked, "What was it like to touch your first client and feel the work beneath your hands?"
Tony's response brought tears to my eyes, and it was then that I knew I wouldn't have to write a word of his book.  I would simply turn the transcripts into something akin to Joseph Campbell's masterpiece, A Joseph Campbell Companion:  Reflections on theArt of Living
At one point Tony was talking about how our society has atrophied into mayhem.  "The end of civilization as we know it is near," he told me. 
"Then why do you still Rolf people?" I asked, intuitively knowing what he might say.
"Because I can't change the whole world," he said.  "But I can help people change one at a time."
I smiled.  "Yes...I remember you told me years ago how you quietly, but persistently do some pretty subversive stuff in that little office of yours."
Tony laughed.
"I think I do the same thing in my yoga studio...and in my office," I said.  "One student, one blog, one book at a time."

It's not splashy, but it's honest and enduring, this life I now lead...and not at all as I had imagined it might be when I was younger.  But as Joseph Campbell wrote, We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
Now I find the joy in embracing quiet moments of kindness.  The sweetness in an email that completely takes me by surprise.  The laughter of a little boy who I love as if he were my own.  An enchanted snowfall that covers my home in silent beauty.
And the grace in knowing that these quiet moments are all incomparable parts of a life worth waiting for.