Bubbles: A Lesson in Humility aka 25before25 #1

Some of my fondest summer memories date back to my early years. We would always leave the metro in the wee hours of the morning, and I’d wake up a few hours later to marvel at the glorious sunrise as the bus wound its way round hills and mountains. The mighty sea would finally come into full view, the seemingly endless blue expanse that churned, hummed, and licked with its frothy, white spittle.

I remember having so much fun. We’d bury people in the sand, and I’d collect starfish that surprisingly wiggled back to life, causing me to throw them back into the water in a panic. I didn’t know how to swim, and I was perfectly happy hanging out by the shore. Still, I would beg the adults to take me with them out into the deep, and I loved the sensation I felt when my feet could no longer reach the sand beneath. I didn’t dare let go; my kiddie self was afraid some slimy thing would wrap itself around my ankle and pull me down into the darkness. Oh yes, I imagined a lot of things.

Bohol, Philippines

I somehow wasn’t able to squeeze in the business of learning how to swim as I grew up. The next thing I knew, I was a twenty-something whose only skill in the water was keeping afloat. This is a condition that needs rectification if one of your goals in life is to discover and experience the wonders that this archipelago called the Philippines has to offer. Simply put, living on the islands necessitates that I learn to swim. Scratch that. Living on a planet of water necessitates that I learn to do more than float.

Late last year, I finally decided to do something about it. I signed up for lessons and was thrilled. How hard can it be? I mean, I started life as a tadpole, didn’t I? I would just need to go back to my roots and remember to do what I already could long ago. Sure, I’d probably one of, if not the oldest student, but I didn’t care. One can never be too old to learn, and I have to start somewhere sometime.

On Day one, the coach taught me the first thing there is to know – bubbles. Air in through the mouth. Air out through the nose. Repeat ten times. Up down, up down, up down… as the four year old kid, my only other classmate that time, watched me from behind his goggles. Coach called out to him to carry on practicing his stroke and not be distracted by my little exercise, as his mother and yaya looked on. I won’t lie; it was embarrassing. The kid could run circles around me, while I could only produce a slight disturbance on the surface.

I tell you, at that exact moment, it hit me. Willingness to learn is always a given, but there are other important requirements. The first step to learning or acquiring a new skill is an admission of ignorance, the acceptance of a need or a weakness, and the readiness to surrender control and give your trust to someone who could teach and guide you. Learning requires humility, and that’s not easy.

I confess I wasn’t the best student. I’d have to be at the pool by 7am in my cap and goggles, rain or shine. The water was often cold, and all those warm-up laps really worked me out. I felt quite alone in the water; whether I sink or swim depended entirely on me. My coach watched from above, giving me instructions and calling out my mistakes. Learning the strokes and doing drills over and over were frustrating. I talked a little too much to deflect, but we still managed to stay on track. I knew there was no other way to do it, so I carried on and finished.

At the end of ten sessions, I am qualified now to say that I can swim. I’m still no expert, but I have a newfound confidence when I’m in the water.  It’s the best feeling. The beach and the sea remain to be favorites, and I approach them now with a different kind of excitement. Being in the water feels more natural, easier. It gives me an amazing sense of peace and relaxation that’s hard to replicate elsewhere.

I’m signing up for advanced classes soon. I want to be able to do the strokes well, and I miss swimming regularly. Quite frankly, learning something new gives me such a buzz. I know that that was only the first step, a small key to places I want to go to. Now I can. And that is one of the best things I can give myself.



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