While swimming laps today, I could hear her murmuring from the other pool. I have no idea who she is and I can’t understand a word she says; one thing for sure, she certainly says them. I’d seen her many times before and I secretly admired her confidence.
She carefully walked down the stairs into the adjoining therapy pool as I sat there adjusting my goggles and futzing around with my earplugs; this the first time I’d seen her on land, was a sight to behold. She was in fact quite tall and had a girth about her that reminded me of the old syrup bottles of Aunt Jemima; a woman with a presence and confidence that said more visually than she’d ever have to say verbally. She was wearing a full-length swimsuit that vaguely reminded me of the survival suits that that are commonly used on commercial fishing vessels; vibrant orange from neck to toe. Over that suit she was festooned with noodle-like flotation antennae. A bristling band around her waist and a complementing set around each arm let you know that even though she likely couldn’t swim, there was no way she was going to drown. On her head she wore a white cloth swim cap that seemed more piled on than pulled on and her tall forehead made a marvelous contrast against that white with the beautiful dark color of her skin.
She dropped down into the water like a Baptist into a water trough and almost immediately began talking to herself as she waded out into the swim lane. I was glad I’d seen this, It gave me something to think about as I swam, flip-turned at the end, swam and flip-turned at the other end only to be repeated 71 more times. One, two, three, breathe. One, two, three, breathe….flip.
It took me 40 minutes to finish my flips and my "one, two, threes"; happily water-logged and tired at the end, I allow myself to stand at the end of the lane and enjoy the cool water; that’s when I heard her murmuring. At first I only heard the word “Lord”. I’d heard her many times before and had assumed that as she waddle-bobbed, back and forth across the 25 meter length, she was simply talking herself along not unlike my “one, two, three, breathe…” I turned towards her and rested my arms on the pool ledge and listened more closely as she passed by on her way to the other end. “Lord, I wanna’ praise you. Lord, I wanna’ thank you. Lord, I wanna’ exalt you. Lord, I wanna’ lift you up…” On every other upward bob, she stressed the verb with which she celebrated her Lord.
Suddenly it dawned on me that what I was hearing was the most beautiful example of praise I’d seen in quite some time. Here was this woman, bobbing her way across the pool festooned in a bizarre assortment of white noodles, getting exercise for both her body and her soul. I waited till she came by again and I watched with every fiber of my Dutch Reformed underpinning screaming in glorious confusion. Her face was upward, her voice clear and strong and her workout was clearly more restorative than exhaustive. I was immediately aware of how wrong I’d been.
I crawled up onto the deck and headed to where my towel waited. As I passed her I was looking at her while trying to give an approving smile; she looked up at me and not missing a praise beat, gave me a smile and kept on going. In my mind we connected on a common spiritual thread but in reality, she likely was thinking how tall I was and the girth I carried; how odd I appeared all white, wet, and clad in a Speedo. She probably thought how strange I looked, festooned in swim flippers and goggles. The real tragedy is that I gave her no testament in my words or actions of how much I wish to please my Savior.
The only difference between us on this day was found in the realization that while I swim to forget, she swims to remember. I go home pleasantly exhausted; she goes home rejuvenated from within. I swim for me; she swims for Him.