Monday, June 30, 2008


It's been really hot the last couple of days--summertime hot, fans-whirring, skin-sticking hot. Even Jamaica can barely summon up the energy to play ball for more than 15 minutes before she has to go lie in the shade and go pant with her tongue dripping below the tennis ball. The rest of us move from room to room, vying for the best seat in front of the fan. My hottest moment of the morning came when Grampie walked out of the bedroom clothed in long pants and a long-sleeved turtleneck. It reminded me of all the days when I'd tell a child to go put on a sweater because I was freezing! I found a shirt of Beve's for Grampie to wear, and wouldn't take no for an answer. Thankfully, he's always been a very amenable man.

Anyway, it all makes me long for the days of my first real job--being a lifeguard at the Rainey Park pool. No matter how hot the day, I lived in swimsuits, and could jump in the water at 20 minute intervals. Though I had to be a very good swimmer and pass a Water Safety Instructor test to be a Lifeguard, for the most part, lifeguarding isn't anymore than glorified babysitting, consisting of two important skills. First, there's the ability to raise one's voice over the din of a crowd in water and speak these two words, "Don't run." Seriously. "Don't run." Those words are spoken a dozen--a hundred?--times a day by lifeguards at public swimming pools. I could speak them in my sleep in those years, really I could. And secondly, one must be able to twirl a whistle. Not blow it (though this is assumed), but twirl it. First, clockwise all the way around a finger, then counter-clockwise all the way back. Once that skill is mastered, for the really, really advanced lifeguard standing at the edge of a pool full of splashing children, twirling the whistle around each finger one at a time can be tackled. But I wouldn't try it the first day out, if I were you...because every once in a while, that whistle has to be blown, and getting it unwrapped is critical. I mean, after all, someone' life--or running!--might depend on it. This is a very, I mean VERY, important part of the job, and I'm proud to say I had a Master's degree in it, after five years...

OK, so I was a lifeguard for 5 years, and for all the yelling, whistle-spinning and swimming I did, I participated in exactly two--yes, two!--actual lifesaving events. And trust me when I tell you, I wouldn't have minded having skipped either of them. Most guards feel the same way. The first time at an indoor pool up on campus where I was guarding, a young man dove off a high dive and split his nose open. I didn't quite see the actual collision with the wall far beneath the water, but definitely saw that he was in trouble with a capital T there in the deep end, so went in to help. When I pulled him to the side, and another guard helped him out, I had blood all over my arm from his face. Fortunately, I never even saw what he looked like. It wasn't a pretty sight, I was told. I was busy catching my breath from having put all those classes to the test saving him.
That same summer, right in the shallow end of the outdoor pool, a ten-year-old had an epileptic seizure, and that time I saw it. I could tell she wasn't simply splashing. I can't tell you how I knew now, but it was a very, very scary thing. I went into auto-pilot, though. Walked in to get her, while another guard used a whistle to clear the pool. We laid her down, called a medic. It was all pretty exciting...she'd never had a seizure before. When the aid vehicle left and I got to my next station, at the deep end of the pool, my knees were shaking so badly I couldn't climb up into the chair. Another guard took my shift, and I dove straight into the cool water and began to breathe more easily. I think I swam the length of the pool without even thinking about it. By the time I stood up at the shallow end, I felt calmer. It was my natural habitat, after all.

Lifeguarding--guarding others' lives. Most of the time, simply pointing out troubled spots. Not running on wet cement isn't simply adults being autocratic, but about avoiding danger, or (to be positive) keeping them safe. And perhaps, lifeguarding is what we should be doing for each other. Maybe we should all be outfitted with whistles, as we walk this life together, so we can point out wet cement or where the water is too deep for our abilities or whatever it is that will make our swim best for us. And, with all this simple pointing and whistle whirling, we must be ready to dive into the deep water at any moment to save our friends when they're drowning. Just be ready for it. Always at the ready. That's what we're about as lifeguards. And as spiritual friends --it's the primary job we have with each other, being at the ready--swimming together, lifeguarding, and life-saving each other. Get your whistles out!

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