Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hell at Sea, Part 1

I can remember precisely two events in my life where I gave up, quit, chickened out, retreated.  The first time I was about 7 or 8 years old.  My family were vacationing in San Antonio, and we went to an amusement park there.  We wanted to ride the big roller coaster, and I thought it to be very exciting...until we were walking up the ramp to join the queue.  Then I could see what was going to happen when I got on that ride, and I didn't want any part of it.  I told my Mom I didn't want to go, and she very aggravatingly told me to go back down the walkway and wait for them at the end.

And so I made the walk of shame back down, held held low, red-faced, very embarrassed...too embarrassed for such a young kid.  I was ashamed I had chickened out.  From time to time I think of this.  Perhaps it unfolded in a different manner.  An almost-thirty-year-old memory is not to be entirely trusted, but one never forgets how one felt.

The second time I was 13, maybe 14 years old.  Mom would take my sisters and I swimming every day at a pool at the local Jewish Community Center.  We were neither Jewish, nor very much into community, but fortunately neither were required to purchase a summer pass.  I loved to swim.  Mom tells me I taught myself how when I was a toddler.  I'm not sure if that's even possible, but it makes for an interesting tidbit.  

One of my sisters is 2 years older than I, and the pool was going to hold a lifeguard certification and training course.  Very uncharacteristically for her (she not being interested in anything remotely athletic...that had always been my department), she voiced interest and signed up for the class.  Not to be outdone by anyone or anything, and though being too young to officially be certified as a lifeguard, I wiggled my way into the class.

We received our book to read and learn at the first class, then went straight into the physical conditioning portion of things.  We lined up and dove in the pool one-by-one, swam across to the other side, got out, then hurried around to the first side to line up and do it again and again, over and over.  Imagine running lines in basketball or running the bases in softball/baseball, and you get the general idea.  Endurance had never been my strength.  I was strong, very very strong at that point, and I could sprint fairly well, but anything involving long term exertion was not suited to me.  That's why I preferred softball over soccer and basketball, though I played all three.

Well, I reached a point where I could no longer catch my breath in the 20 seconds between sessions, so I gave up; I quit.  I told the instructor I wasn't going to do this any more, and I went over and sat down next to my Mom, red-faced and embarrassed yet again.  I had proven them right...the ones who said I was too young to be in the class; and that burned me even more.  I had to look on as the participants made their way through the subsequent classes and eventually became certified as lifeguards.  Bully for, really.

I don't think there was a particular point at which I vowed to never quit again, at least never quit because something was scary or too difficult; I think it just became a sort of internalized motto.  I still quit some things:  a terribly dull book, a failed attempt at a new ice cream recipe, you get the idea.

And so, when I find myself in a situation that triggers my 'fight or flight' instinct, I think about how the fear or discomfort or hardship will be temporary, but the shame from quitting will last a lifetime.  And so, this refusal to feel chicken-shit-ish is what made me stay on that catamaran in Frenchman's Bay in Maine exactly 2 weeks ago.


Anonymous said...

Yep, I'm hanging!

Anonymous said...

Those waves are a crashing.

Spidey said...

anxiously waiting for part two!!!!

vq said...

I know I've told you before, but I spent many a summer day swimming at that same Jewish Community Center. My aunt was the secretary of the director of the center. Nice place.

Did your family ever belong to the Wedgwood pool? That's where we usually swam every summer.