It’s not so much of a memory as it is a sensation that rises again and again in the summer months. A little girl lies on a towel on the warm concrete, resting for a moment in the sun. She has been in the water for what seems like hours, holding her breath and crawling under the shimmering blue from one sibling to the other; being thrown into the air by her brother and making a huge splash; floating on her back. She is a little fish, and she belongs here.
The water is cool in hot desert sun, and she loves the sun, loves how it feels on her skin. This is her world; A mother and father who sit in lounge chairs and occasionally come into the water to play; a brother and a sister who will stay with her in the water all day; Sandwiches that the mother has packed in a cooler; Cold drinks from a concession stand. It is a family day and everyone is happy.
It does not matter that this world broke apart in divorce and moves to other states; dissolved itself into the mess that is part of adulthood and failures of the heart. What matters is that each summer it comes back—the sensation of the sun and the water, the excitement about going to the pool and swimming back and forth in the lanes for adults. Do they know that when I am in this pool I am not an adult? I am that little girl again, alive in the sensations of summer, the feelings of security and happiness brought on by sun and water.
A bag is packed with towels and iced water, a kindle to read in the lounge chair. All around me are the happy sounds of children playing in the water, laughing and squealing; the sounds of parents who get into the water and play. These summer afternoons retrieve something precious from a long time ago and thrust it forward into a present that allows me to be my purest, most real self–at play in the world, filled with joy, and delighting in kisses from the summer sun.
Walking into the locker room after my swim, I heard them before I saw them, a giggling, chatty pack of them. Teenaged girls. As I approached my locker, I noted that they were everywhere, a veritable swarm of locusts taking up space with towels, bikinis, lip gloss, incessant texting, and talking. I waded through them, “excuse me, you are sitting in front of my locker. Excuse me, I need to get to my…thank you.” Youthful energy smacking me in my face each step of the way.
One young woman, adorable in her black and white bikini, also wore a grey wool hat. She stood in front of the full-length mirror adjusting it as I struggled out of my wet bathing suit and into street clothes. I guess that’s the new look for bikinis, but it seems like it would be so hot. Then I heard her friend say “How are you going to swim if you don’t get your face wet?” She put an arm around her as black and white bikini pulled off the grey wool hat, revealing a totally bald head. “My eyelashes and eyebrows are beginning to fall out too and what if the water makes it worse?”
“Don’t worry. You look cute.” The swarm of teenaged locusts suddenly morphed into something other than what I had imagined. Six young, kind women who under normal circumstances in my book, would be overly concerned with how they looked and who they were seen with—because that’s the cluelessness of being 15, right? Wrong. Oh so wrong. I bore witness to six young angels, one of them bald and obviously dealing with sickness and suffering that no fifteen year old should have to deal with, and all of her friends who had brought her to the pool to swim; who rallied round her with love, support and protection. “You look cute,” another one of them echoed and then they disappeared—off to the pool in their little pack.
In an ordinary moment in an ordinary place, I was blessed to experience an extraordinary hope. I am sometimes cynical and disheartened by a world grown harsh. But here, in the locker room at the local rec center, I found gentle inspiration in a gaggle of teenaged girls who embodied hope in the simple actions of what it truly means to be a human being.