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An Aquatic Hypocrite

I won’t define my sense of what hypocrisy is here, but I’ll end the piece with a prime example of it.

The road to that unseemly quality ends, for me, at the aquatic center of our condo. I swim every day I have the chance. Whenever we travel, my first concern is whether I’ll be able to do so at our destination. Some people would consider me a committed swimmer. Others, my family, foremost among these, think I should be committed, period. If pressed, I can list and describe in great detail many pools I have known. When family members reminisce about historical sites, scenery, and, of course, restaurants encountered in our travels, my eyes glaze over as I recall, for example, a glass-bottomed hotel pool in Shanghai. Located on the twenty-seventh floor, it offered a staggering view of a busy thoroughfare far below. I felt as though I were doing laps in the sky.

For me, the primary attraction of swimming is that it puts the unflattering image of my days as, shall we say, a “pudgy” kid in the rearview mirror. Slow as my strokes are, my persistence means that I will continue to elude him, that he’ll be relegated to some locked chamber of memory with no hope of ever reappearing in front of a mirror.

I’ve found other virtues in swimming. Before engaging in that activity, my strategy for banishing that stout (that was the era’s euphemism for “fat”) kid was tennis, which I played every day I could regardless of weather. When my reliable partner moved, the advantage of swimming as an activity I could engage in alone became clear.

Besides the fact that dutifully doing my laps helped me stay in decent physical condition, I unexpectedly discovered the watery allure of solitude. As I churned through the water without distraction, my mind reveled in uncommon freedom. I could plan, work at problem solving, evaluate, and reminisce. In effect, I found the pool to be an ideal refuge from the non-stop distractions of daily life. However, that exhilarating sense is possible for me only when I’m the only occupant of a pool.

I must confess, therefore, to not being a willing sharer of any pool I happen to be flailing away at. By nature, I don’t think I’m a selfish person, but as time has passed, I’ve become addicted to complete solitude. The only tolerable noise in the pool area is self-created, and that is minimal. In that situation, I’m comfortable in a world of my own creation. If someone else is in the pool when I arrive or someone enters while I’m at my routine, ominous thoughts occur. This person is going to encroach on my lane, or that person is a water thrasher who will create waves that will make me even slower than I normally am. And don’t even mention kids, whom I encounter from time to time. They’re not there to keep weight off. Little pleasure seekers that they are, their goal is to have fun! What a notion! Don’t they realize that swimming is a serious activity?

I may exaggerate my antipathy to sharing a pool, but not by much. Given the fact that I don’t remember a time when I had to delay or abandon swimming for such reasons, my concerns may seem foolish. But one of them could actually happen next time, right? Therefore, caution is my constant companion.

That mindset motivated my excursion into hypocrisy. Today, as I was returning to our condo after my workout, I encountered a woman I had seen before but didn’t really know. She greeted me cheerfully, then asked matter-of-factly how many laps I had done that morning. Assuming that she had seen me occasionally through the glass enclosure separating the pool from the hallway, I told her. What she said next chilled my blood more than the temperature of the pool has ever done. As the elevator door opened to her floor, she said over her shoulder, “You’re my role model. I’m going to use the pool more often.”

How many thoughts can race through a mind in a micro-second? Mine instantly became the Indianapolis Speedway of competing reactions. I wanted to say something like, “Oh, yeah, the pool is great if you somehow avoid the sharks.” Instead, just before the elevator door closed completely, I told her that was a good idea, that her health would benefit from her doing so.

There I was, the pool hermit, actually issuing a subtle invitation to share my exclusive domain! What had gotten into me? At times, when I do something unpredictable, our daughter Gill confronts me with, “Who are you? I don’t recognize you anymore!” Good question. Has something within me changed radically without my knowledge?

I’ll think about that possibility tomorrow as I work at my regimen, provided that no one disrupts my introspective solitude.

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