Cold water beads on his nose. Bracing for the chill he dives in, arms like oars pulling him onward; his legs a propeller, beating steadily against the watery surface. A few strokes in and he comes up for air, turns his head, fills his lungs, and returns to the grind of the training session. They have many meters to swim today, and he’s only just begun.
High above in the mezzanine I sit watching my son. From up here he looks so small. So skinny and sleek in the water, just a kid in the sea of swimmers. But up close you can see the muscles forming under his skin. You can see his back broadening, his legs becoming more powerful, his arms growing longer with every stroke. Each week he gets a little stronger, and every so often, they promote him up a lane, swimming further and further from the wall of protection. Out into the middle, into the deep, where only the strong ones are sent.
Before long practice is over, and he is spent. He heaves himself out of the water, breathless and exhausted, but smiling. He fist-bumps his friends, he pals around with his teammates, he thanks his coach for a good practice. The drills are tough, but he has found his tribe. Camaraderie, commitment, and team spirit run high on this pool deck, and there is no room for half-hearted swimmers. This is a group of generous, encouraging kids, most of them. But there’s an unspoken agreement of reciprocity that follows. The team ranks higher than the individual, and he instinctively knows to be part of this team means laying yourself down and supporting others, in and out of the water.
Stepping to the side and drying off, he looks taller, older. He stands there, surrounded by his friends, on his own two feet. And at 11 years old, they are no longer the little newborn toes I held in the palm of my hand and kissed the day he was born. No, they are the feet of a growing man. And what a proud moment it is, watching him glow at the threshold of strength and maturity.
I rest in confidence that those sturdy legs will not fail him one day as they propel him through waters far more chaotic than those of the pool that sits below me. The enthusiastic arms that reach out to high five his teammates will soon reach out to help those in need. And the breath he is learning to discipline into a rhythm in the pool will soon serve as the lesson that will discipline him to stay the course when life sucks him into the deep end. As he heads toward the locker room of his youth, I can sense the waves he makes as a man will have a much farther-reaching affect.
Because the boy I watch in the pool is steadfast; he’s smart, kind, and willing to work hard. He lives up to his name, Crew, “working together,” as if on the day he was born we spoke a promise over who he would become. Already he has a deep drive to work for the good even when it’s hard, to uphold the order, the standard, and to give from that big heart God entrusted him with.
One day not far from now he will captain his own team, his own family, his own crew. And it won’t surprise me in the least. Because he’s been our team captain since day one.
It is then that the training of his childhood will resound in his heart, and he’ll know what he needs to do. He’ll remember the effort it takes to overcome long grinds, the discipline required for success, the character needed to do right by others, and the sacrifice, loyalty, and commitment that love for anything requires.
He stands poolside, glistening. Is it just the water beading on his skin, or is it light beaming from inside? God is not far from calling the boy in the pool to the sacred task of manhood, and I already know deep in my heart that he will rise to the challenge.
Practice is over. Backpack over his shoulder, he leads the way as we head to the car. The road stretches before him. And with a smile, he grows to meet it.