It was not the atmosphere I was hoping to find, when I arrived at the pool this afternoon, with G & A in tow: A CPR course was in progress, the lap pool filled with dummy-victims, practicing their best as-if-drowned faces; others mimicking novice swimmers who, overcome with panic, thrash about in hysteria; while another group of onlookers gaped and gasped in horror (ready, set, roll camera).
I agreed to spend the first half hour watching A & G in the leisure pool (aka oversized, kid-friendly, exclusively-shallow-water petri dish), after which they’d join me in the lap pool, at which point I would hope that it would be emptied of pseudo-dead floating bodies.
I nearly panicked myself a few minutes after wading into the kiddie pool: the sheer mass of bodies, young and old, reflecting at least a dozen ethnic groups, sent me into over-protective mode; not of A&G, rather of my own body. I sensed the potential for pain resurfacing everywhere I turned; a small child’s erratic kicks from this direction, a grandfather’s mis-step onto my foot from the other.
So I begged off, asking the lifeguard for permission to observe the kids from the perch of a nearly-empty hot tub overlooking the way-too-many-peopled pool. And from that vantage point, I observed sights and incidents of humanity that I might have missed had I sat closer.
Like the Asian mother who dunked herself into the water with her infant, then cradled him close to her bosom while she swayed back and forth. Like the grandparents who grew quickly anxious when their carrot-topped grandson disappeared from sight (I motioned to them when I eyed their swimaway on the other [wrong!] side, too far to do anyone any good).
I saw a pretty young girl, slightly chubby, sitting off to a side on her own, playfully grabbing at the fatty flabs hanging from her bikini. A trio of dark-skinned boys joined arms and hollered with delight when a colorful bucket of water hanging high above them, overturned onto their heads.
It took me a few minutes to realize that the girl with the widest smile and the giddiest disposition, jumping up and down, was possibly autistic – oh, but the joy she expressed unabashedly, shaking her head wildly, in that watery space!
Nearby, I saw a teenage boy fastened into a vest, and initially thought he was fearful of water. But then he grappled with a young man who helped him up the stairs to a walker. The boy slowly shuffled off, with the man’s assistance, and made his way to the stairs leading up to the slide. The pair climbed slowly, causing a group of children to slow down and tame their boisterousness with the patience they implicitly understood was called for.
When the boy finally splashed into the pool, it felt as if nobody but me (and his caretakers) were watching him. He emerged from the water with a thrilled look on his face, smiled crookedly and seemed to be pleading: let me try again! Something about that scene touched me deeply: It seemed most people in the pool were too busy frolicking to pay attention, certainly nobody seemed to stare.
And then A. swam over to me and, briefly glancing over at the boy just to point him out, she remarked: It’s nice to see that special needs kids come and swim in this pool too, right, AJ?
In that swarming sea of bodies, pulsing with the energy of life and contentment in something as simple as water, it was comforting to see (and hear) that there was space enough for everyone; and words spoken by a young and caring soul to remind us of it too.