Then - 1960
Recruit Depot pool, Parris Island, South Carolina. Age 19.
Rite of passage. Twelve recruits. Field boots, field marching packs, steel helmets.
Drill instructor: "First Squad in the water! Hurry up! Get in right now! Get in! Do not touch bottom or sides or you will not qualify! Do not sink! Do not remove boots or gear! Swim or die! You have thirty minutes! GO!” (Sharp whistle)
Tread water thirty minutes or I’ve failed! Thirty minutes or I am not a Marine!
Anxiety. Pain. I cannot fail! I cannot sink! Do not sink! Too much gear! Do not sink!
Dread. . . struggle. . . fatigue. . . death beckons. Slipping down. . . slipping away. . .
(Sharp whistle) “Stop! First squad out! Second Squad get in now! Get in the pool! Hurry up! Swim or die!”
Made it – as did my Few and Proud brothers and sisters before me.
Now - 2017
LA Fitness pool, Brandon, Florida. Age 76. No other swimmers. Meditative opportunity. I inhale deeply, exhale calmly, then descend. . . slowly, soundlessly. . . toward cool depths. I drift down into freedom. . . complete relaxation. . . peace. . . silence.
I face the pool bottom that rises gradually to meet my descent,
until fingertips and toes rest lightly on its small blue tiles.
One fingernail engages a gap between tiles. . .
I pull very gently - this propels me forward along the bottom. I reach. . . touch and pull slightly. . . and glide again, inches above the pool floor, free of drag, free of gravity. . . weightless. . . touching. . . gliding. . . then slowing to motionlessness. Free of thought. Listening to the silence. Animation suspended in perfect balance and harmony. Serenity attained.
Pushing up gently, I ascend slowly, silently to the calm surface.
William Walsh 2017