A Winning Combination

Back in 2020 B.P. (Before Pandemic) prior to COVID requiring us to re-think every interaction we had with the outside world, Judi and I joined a local community center so we could use their pool. In my youth, days at the pool were spent turning summersaults and doing cannon balls off the diving board, seeing how long we could hold our breath at the bottom of the pool, and engaging in general horse play. No such frivolity is allowed at this pool. In fact, I was reprimanded on my first outing because I jumped in rather than walking down the steps. So, two or three times a week I swam 16 laps which was the equivalent of a half mile. To combat the monotony during one outing, my mind calculated how long it would take to swim to Indianapolis at my usual speed. Turns out it would take a few days. By the time I reached my destination, no doubt I would forget why I went in the first place and I’d still need to find a way home. Forget adding that to my bucket list.

Like most of the rest of the economy, the Center shut down early in 2020. Even after it re-opened, we were reluctant to return to a place where close contact and heavy breathing were near certainties.  After a two-year layoff, the time seemed right to re-think our decision. This month we decided to renew our membership for a quarter. I still have concerns about heavy breathing and close quarters as Omicron works its way through the community, but my determination to exercise through the winter months overrode this worry about the virus. Some Indiana winter days are just too cold and windy to walk outside for very long. The fact that I have a love/hate, mostly hate relationship with our home treadmill makes it a challenge to put in enough miles over a week’s time. I can do it, but I don’t like it. So, we made a decision to return to the water.

The night before our initial swim, I prepared a gym bag. Or perhaps I should say I pulled it out of the closet. Sort of like a go-bag for emergencies, only without a wad of cash and fake passport.  It had remained packed all these months. There was only one problem. I no longer remembered the combination for the lock I previously used to secure my things in a locker while I swim. Judi had an identical lock. Of course, she had her code written down in a book dedicated especially for that kind of information. Generous as she is, she offered her lock to me. I tossed it in the side pocket of my bag, and the next morning off we went.

Returning to the water was rejuvenating. The buoyancy. The stretching of muscles. The glide between strokes. It all felt good. During the first lap I thought was speeding along faster than before.  Could I actually be quicker than two years ago? Then I realized the person in the next lane lapped me multiple times over the duration of my swim. Thank goodness I am my only competition in this outing.

Sixteen laps later, I returned to the locker room. Judi’s combination was easy to remember. 1-23-1. (Sh-h-h! Don’t tell anyone.) I spun the dial, hitting each number; the lock refused to open. I tried again. These gadgets can be sensitive after all. A slight overrun of the numbers is all it takes to spoil your effort. Again, the lock refused to yield. After several attempts I had to face the inevitable conclusion. Judi’s combination is easy to remember but it only works on Judi’s lock.  I had accidentally grabbed my old lock from the pocket of my gym bag and had now locked myself out. No clothes. No car keys. No nothing. That’s rarely, if ever, a winning combination; especially in 10-degree weather and 12 miles from home.

I started what I supposed may be called the swimmer’s walk of shame upstairs to confess my predicament. With just my swimsuit and a towel thrown around my neck I made my way to the front desk. I ignored the signs that ask swimmers not to come upstairs in swim suits because my only other alternative would have been more objectionable. On the bright side, I don’t swim in a Speedo. Of course, the reception desk is by the front door of the main entrance. Why wouldn’t it be? When it’s 10 degrees outside, it’s a bit chilly even on the inside, especially in wet clothes. As I asked the desk attendant if the Center had a pair of bolt cutters to remove my lock, I heard a woman behind me say, “Ahh — he forgot the combination to his locker.” Her friend chimed in, “So that’s why he’s here in his swim suit. I thought maybe he was just showing off.” I presume she said that in jest, though as they say, there is no accounting for taste. Whatever the intent, it made me laugh. A few minutes later a staff member from maintenance strode into the locker room with a grinder in hand and saved the day. What a relief to be reunited with my clothes and especially my keys! It was a triumphant, if complicated, end to this return to the water.

The experience brought to mind a book I’ve been reading called Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know.” One take away from the book is a reminder of the ingrained tendency to rely on what we have come to believe as correct and/or true without ever reconsidering the viewpoint. That is likely inconsequential at times, but in other moments it ushers us toward a rigidity that can be unhelpful or even harmful. Learning to revisit decisions like whether or not to return to the Community Center, questioning our positions with curiosity and in non-judgmental ways can expand our knowledge, enhance our decision making and change our point of view.

During my working days, after a successful event or conference it was natural to want to enjoy the moment and pat ourselves on the back for all that went well. One colleague never failed to interrupt the euphoria by wanting to debrief and review what we might have learned that would benefit us the next time. I’m a guy who likes to let the paint dry before I decide if I’m satisfied with the color. While the quick call for evaluation was often mildly irritating, it was absolutely the right thing to do—maybe not at that exact moment but soon, before the details began to fade.

This is a reminder that seems especially appropriate given the current circumstances in which we live. We’ve been asked to re-think where we spend our time, whether or not to mask, how often we wash our hands, how crowded should an area be, just to name a few. After re-thinking plans and actions given the risks, at some point it is prudent to re-think adjustments in case they were overdone, unnecessary, or even wrong. My life would be better off if that was my regular practice, even without the virus. Life isn’t static and neither should our decisions be. How do we best dedicate our time and attention to order our lives according to the things that are important to us? For that matter, are the things we’ve long considered to be our highest priorities still, in fact, the ones we care about?  If not, wouldn’t it be wise to recalibrate our commitments accordingly? In those moments when your best efforts leave you locked out from the things needed to move forward, re-think your priorities and next steps in order to find solutions rather than succumb to circumstance. Even if you have to destroy a few locks along the way, my guess is that practice can be a winning combination both now and in the coming age of A. P. (After Pandemic), whenever that may finally be.

Further Reading

Purchase book.

“This is destined to become a new Quaker classic with its depths of insight on call and discernment.” — Carole Dale Spencer

“… the book is a rare and much needed Quaker-specific how-to manual for embracing our individual calls to ministry …” — Windy Cooler

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