Gretchen Walker nervously carried her shopping bag upstairs to her bedroom and set it on the antique dresser next to the picture of her late husband, Harold. She busied herself for a few moments putting away her purse and pulling off her clip on earrings and slipping her shoes into the closet in exchange for her house slippers. When she found no more busy work to delay her task, she turned her attention to the department store paper bag on the bureau. She timidly pulled it open, reached in and pulled out the black garment and held it before her. It was modest and sleek. It was plain with a high neckline and back. It was the first swimsuit she had bought in 47 years.
She hung it up carefully on her open closet door and then set her mind to gathering the other things she would need for her task the next day. She found a suitable towel, sandals, a lightweight robe-style garment and a pair of goggles that she had also bought that day and placed it all in a cloth shoulder bag and hung it on the closet doorknob. Her gaze kept catching the black bathing suit, a onepiece with a little skirt attached to it. As hard as she tried, she could not keep from remembering the last time she ever wore a bathing suit. She had been seven, and although many days from her childhood were blurry and nondescript, this particular day had been burned into her consciousness with the very fire of fear.
It had been at the local pool of her childhood. Her brothers went everyday to go swimming and play with the other neighborhood kids, but Gretchen was never allowed.
"You're too young. You might get lost. You might drown. You don't know how to swim." Her mother would give her the endless list of reasons for her exile.
"But Robert can show me how to swim. He swims all the time!" she would protest.
"He took lessons. He saved his money and he took lessons."
"Lessons are for babies," she would whine. Her mother would shake her head and then go into the kitchen to make supper and Gretchen knew that that was the end of the conversation. One day, her mother acquiesed.
"Alright. You can go. Any trouble and it will be the last time." Gretchen had nearly run all the way to the pool in her shiny new blue and green bathing suit. Bathing suits looked so much different back then. She found her brothers' spot on the concrete, laid her belongings down and then headed to the shallow end. Robert told her to stay there and once he was done playing his game with his friends, he would come over and show her how to swim. Until then, she was to stay in the shallow end.
But she didn't. She tried to find her brothers and she tried to play with the other kids her age. She watched them enviously dive off the side into the pool. So, she climbed out and tried to mimic what they were doing. She splashed in head first and tried to kicking to the top. But the air wouldn't come. She flailed wildly, the water slowing her down. Once or twice, she broke the surface and tried to scream, only to be met with a rush of water. Everything went black. The next thing she knew was her brother trying to talk to her. A lifeguard had pulled her out of the water and performed CPR.
Gretchen vowed never to swim again...
Until Leah asked for swimming lessons from her grandmother. Leah was Gretchen's daughter's child and a precocious one at that. She had the same fearless attitude Gretchen had had at age seven. Leah had begged Gretchen for a trip to the beach, but Gretchen always found a way to avoid it. There was always a meeting, a lunch date, a quilt showcase. But Rebecca, Gretchen's daughter, finally put a stop to it.
"Mom," she said one day after they had finished lunch together. "Leah is adamant. She wants you to take her swimming. She says you take her to church and you take her to the library, but she wants to go to the pool and see her Grandma float. She won't give in."
That night, Gretchen had gone to her bedroom and shut the door. Her husband had always said that God didn't give them a spirit of fear. She sat in the armchair in the corner of her bedroom and began to pray.
"Lord, I don't know what you want of me. I am terrified of the water. I let Robert and Harold teach all of my children to swim. Even baths have been terrifying for me. Yet, you seemed to have conquered all, even walked on the very water I fear and you have given me a granddaughter that is bound and determined for this to happen. Lord, give me the pathway to just walk in water, I don't have to walk on it. Just give me enough love to conquer this for Leah."
The next morning, she received a flyer in the mail advertising swimming lessons at the local YWCA for adults. She called as soon as she saw the number and reserved her spot, tears falling down her face.
The morning of her lesson arrived and she put on her bathing suit under some clothes, grabbed her bag and headed for the Y. As she stepped out onto the platform surrounding the pool, fear crept into her body and she went rigid. An instructor came over and began to coax her toward the water, then helped her to the stairs and Gretchen slowly, one step at a time, eased herself into the pool until she was waist deep in water. After a few moments of just standing, she began to move, walking and just feeling the water around her body.
The instructor came over and showed Gretchen how to let go of everything and relax. Soon, she was able to lie back and lift her feet and steady herself, suspended in the water. She began to laugh and, suddenly, she began to cry.
"Ma'am, are you all right?" asked the instructor.
"Yes," said Gretchen. "It's just... well... my granddaughter is going to see her grandma float."