Yesterday morning I went swimming at SpringHill for the last time…
At the end of the summer my husband and I made the tough decision to move from this place we’ve called home for the last ten years. As I struggle for a way to say goodbye and inform all the different circles of people we know here, my heart is overwhelmed. So I turned back to a passion and comfort, the pool, to paint an analogy of my time here. What has made this place different? What have I learned about “community” living in a small rural town?
My whole life I have been a competitive swimmer. Growing up in the suburbs of Detroit, I spent hours upon hours swimming laps in pools. These practices were contained in neat rows that classified you based on your speed and ability. You knew where you stood on the team based on the lane the coach put you in. The lane markers in the pool kept you not only swimming in a straight line, but served as breakers minimizing your wake, so not to interfere with anyone else’s workout. We were trained to focus only on our stokes, our time, and our race. Our best individual performance was what helped the team.
For the last 10 years I have been swimming with the community lap swimmers at the camp pool. Typically I am the youngest in the pool by 20-30 years (sorry ladies:). There are no coaches, no starting blocks, no flags, and there are no such lane markers, nor is there a “fast lane.” Admittedly, it took me a while to get used to this arrangement, wondering if I could “succeed” in such an environment. It wasn’t the perfect set up but it was what was available, eventually my love for swimming won out over my need to create an ideal practice environment. Some days there were few people in the pool, other days it felt crowded, swimmers always gracefully shifted. Over time I realized there was a space for everyone, including me. Community is about lessening your expectations and embracing what’s in front of you, God grants purpose wherever he places you.
I was greeted each Tuesday and Thursday with waves and smiles from patrons, eventually I learned their stories and they would regularly give me updates. I fell in love with their characters, I celebrated and cried with them. We became cheerleaders for each other’s weight-loss goals, physical pain and recovery, and intentional journey to be healthy. We learned who preferred which spot due to their special need, and when someone missed a day, the pool seemed empty. I always looked forward to the return of the snow birds, who would come back in the summer with stories of their swimming adventures in other locations. I have swam through many seasons, through pregnancy, after babies, I have slowed down my pace and fought for the right to go during busy times. This last year I had to give up swimming with this group in order to go back into teaching, it was one of the things I missed most. I still swam at other times but I grieved their presence in the pool; it’s not the place, it’s the people. To be in community you have to show up and make a routine of it, God desires us to be fully present.
For a long time I felt myself holding back on my workouts… would I look like a show off if I swam the entire set or splashed during my flip turns. What if someone veered in my spot as I swam, do I slow down? Go around? What are the unwritten rules to truly fit in here? I found myself constantly surveying the area around me when I swam, to make sure my strokes didn’t overtake the next persons. Even so, I grew confident in showing my ability, and allowed myself to push forward, as I grew in my mindfulness of those around me. We drafted off each others wake and I felt myself pausing as others passed. My movements affected theirs, and theirs affected mine. Even though many were not fast, I found myself amazed at their endurance and dedication. They accepted me into their group even with my splashes and wild flip turns. To become a part of community you have to be vulnerable allowing others to accept both your weaknesses and strengths.
Yesterday I sat on the edge of the pool, observing the water aerobics ladies who enter just after lap swim and my heart already grieves as I leave. I loved seeing them around town, in the public library, the grocery store, at church. The overlap in a small town is one of the greatest blessings, it is also one of the things that makes it so hard to leave. I will always remember running into a lady from lap-swim in the high-school office where I taught, with students all around she publicly declared “Oh Kate, I almost didn’t recognize you with clothes on!” While the students got a chuckle at it, I felt proud of her comfort level and willingness to accept me and treat me no differently, no matter the situation we were in. The magnitude of community goes beyond the pool, beyond school, beyond camp, beyond church, beyond town functions, it dwells deeply in the heart. Living in a place where the “markers” are removed allows for true community to form. The community is the team, together we perform our best.
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