Recently the image of a drowned three-year-old boy on a Turkish beach has awakened something in the world that story after story depicting the horrors of the migrant crisis had so far failed to do. I think the desperation of how bad it is, that’s the point. And the power of that photo to me is rooted in the universal fear of water that’s over our heads that none of us ever gets over.
This story has resonated with me. I don’t wish to downplay the situation there and I think there’s much to be done to resolve it. Hopefully seeing a child done in by the water should be a wake-up call to the world.
While I don’t wish to compare our daughter to that boy in the tragic photograph, I have a certain perspective as a parent: Zuzu is advancing in leaps and bounds in her aquatic education. She’s learning to swim and to be confident around the water. And while I don’t want her to be afraid of the water, I do want her to have a healthy respect for the sea and its unforgiving nature.
I’ll never forget jumping from a dock for a swimming test at a summer camp. Into ten feet of water. I took a couple of halfhearted strokes WHERE WAS THE BOTTOM?!? and proceeded to swallow what felt like a gallon of lake water. A counselor on the dock pushed the end of a bamboo pole toward me to grab and as my wide eyes (I imagine) watched him, the water’s surface closed over my head. The water surrounded me with its cold completely. I’ll never forget that moment, though I don’t think I’ve ever shared that with anyone before.
Now when Zuzu swims I generally swim with her, always ready to crack the joke I learned from Chet Roche. Chester was my folks’ friend and neighbor who was so generous with his swimming pool when I was growing up. He and his wife BJ would have us up to the top of the hill where we lived to swim and dive and use their slide (really probably all ill-advised by the insurance underwriters who seemingly control so much now). At any rate, whenever my older brother Matt or I would surface from his pool coughing and hacking from inhaling a lungful of water, Chet would laugh and say, “Don’t drink my water! That’s expensive pool water!” And it always struck me as funny, because here I was trying to catch my breath and coughing or watching my brother’s face turn a shade of pale blue-gray as he did the same, and Chet—an adult, mind you—was joking around.
I try to do the same to my daughter. Don’t drink the whole ocean, I say. We won’t have anything left to swim in. If you’re thirsty, just ask, we’ll get you a drink. Her eyes fix on me as I say this, as she hacks and tries to catch her breath. Does she get it?
I do. I now understand how it works: Acknowledge her plight but also make light of it. And while it worked to some degree for me, I hope it works much better on her.
That’s what this boat is to me. A way to face up to this and everything else. And show her how to do that too.