When I was six, I joined our swim team in the Panama Canal Zone because I wanted to win a trophy. In my first race a few weeks later, after wildly thrashing far behind all the other girls, I stopped, choking, a few yards from the deep-end finish line. Faced with going down, living became more important than winning trophies.
I couldn’t find pure air. I was inhaling water instead of air. I couldn’t get rid of the water choking me. I splashed around trying to keep afloat in the deep water. I felt lost and incapable. Parents’ cheering voices echoed around the bleachers. All the other girls were already getting out of the pool, wrapping in towels, hugged by their parents. I was the only one left in the pool. I felt all alone.
Two lifeguards jumped in. They encircled me, but without touching, so they wouldn’t disqualify me. I was very angry and couldn’t understand why they didn’t pull me to safety. Loud cheers disappeared, and the lifeguards’ gentle voices became the only sound.
We treaded water together while I sputtered and gasped. They gradually soothed my panic. As they calmed me, air instead of water started going in my lungs. My anger dissipated as they reassured me I could finish on my own. As I slowly paddled to the end, I knew the direction of my life had changed.
Something clicked in my six-year-old mind. The lifeguards gave me a more important message. I instantly knew that I fit in our world just as I am. Our life is valuable as it is. I sensed a bigger force that is Love flowing in us and through us. We do not have to fight for recognition by standing out or winning. We affirm our mutual dignity by cooperating with each other instead of working to destroy our connection. At that moment I instinctively agreed with and committed to these truths. It has made all the difference. As I grew up, deeper layers of these insights have become more significant and guided me well:
Knowing that we are loved and important as we are makes all the difference. We are precious and beloved, invited to a magnificent adventure, greater than our small selves.
Life is easier when we see events as they are, instead of deciding whether they are “good” or “bad.” Judgments can make us panic and cloud our perception of reality. We all know how a pessimistic person can become miserable or paralyzed in a crisis. Like the lifeguards taught me, we can find solutions when everything appears lost.
We have tremendous power within. Our capabilities can surprise us. Judgments cut off possible options. Our open mind reveals opportunities we never saw before. Trusting in our basic goodness reveals amazing possibilities we already have. I started realizing this with the lifeguards’ faith in me.
I went into the pool looking for a trophy. I came out winning a much greater gift that saved my life. Later I went on to win many medals and trophies. But that’s another story for another time.