I learned to swim as a child, and even joined the swim team for a couple summers, along with my little brother, Ben. Ben is a talented athlete and quickly got awarded "guppy of the week" and later "minnow of the week." I was skilled at blowing bubbles and patiently waited to win "whale of the week." Although that did not occur, I did win many ribbons in races--each a sixth place ribbon (there being six lanes of girls competing).
I took swimming up again over two years ago. Now I swim regularly with a group that is divided into eight swimming lanes, based upon speed. I have labored long in lane one, designated the "beginner" lane. I think the theory is that "beginner" sounds better than "slow," and this is true for a while. But a beginner at three years? Well, the good news is that I recently was upgraded to swimming in lane two. I no longer am a beginner! I am now a "novice." I am at the back of the novice pack, and I am determined to work hard so I am not demoted back to beginner.
I have daydreamed lately about what it must be like to swim in lanes seven or eight. Those in these lanes swim so fast, covering three or four times the distance I do in the same alloted time, but when they are finished, they do not look tired. Will I ever be promoted to lane seven or lane eight? I would be satisfied with seven, where the swimming is slippery, as though the swimmers are fish rather than human. If you are a scholar of the Bible, you know the importance of seven. Seven days of Passover, seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, seven loaves and fishes. And of course, seven days to create the world, with the seventh day reserved for rest, or perhaps for some slippery swimming. Seven means completeness. Eight is a whole other dimension, another zone. Turn an 8 on its side and you have infinity. Those in lane eight are so fast that I question whether they really are human, or perhaps space aliens sent here with really good disguises. The water is no barrier for them; it is as though they swim through space.
This week, I arrived at swim practice a little early, and another class was still swimming. I noticed they were swimming in lanes seven and eight. Although they appeared human in some respects, they were somehow different. For one thing, they looked very fast. Suddenly, Coach Michael called my name, "Amy, come swim. We need another swimmer for this relay." I grabbed my swim cap and lined up, in lane seven. My daydream was coming true! For fifty yards, I was going to swim with the slippery sevens, trying to best the infinite eights.
I looked around at the space alien swimmers, like me in some ways, different in others, and recalled an episode of the Twighlight Zone called "To Serve Mankind." Do you remember this episode? Short beings with giant heads pilot to earth in a spaceship that looks like the Markel Building out near Willow Lawn. They appear benevolent and say they want to help humans. They even have written a book called "To Serve Mankind." A group of humans agree to visit the alien planet and begin to board the spaceship. As the door closes, a woman runs out and shouts, "Don't go! Don't go! 'To Serve Mankind' is a . . . cookbook!"
But it was too late; I was already in the water, in the boiling cauldron. Coach Michael shouted, "GO!" so I swam was fast as I could in lane seven. Down and back. When I hit the wall, I looked up to see whether I had beaten the female alien in lane eight. She was finished, relaxed. She looked like she'd had time to eat a peanut butter sandwich while she waited for me. Perhaps this was good--nobody appeared to be hungry, so I was allowed to leave gracefully, congratulating the winning team as I exited.
It was a great experience, swimming with the sevens and eights, if only for a brief moment. I got out and asked Coach Michael a bit more about the identity of these space aliens. It turns out there were no sevens there, only eights: Eight-year olds from Endorphin Fitness's youth group. Perhaps one day, if I work really hard, I will be as fast as they are. But I'll settle for seven.