Sunday, November 06, 2005

A plunge into warm water

My son was perched 10 feet up on the diving platform, and almost 30 years back. It's a memory that pursues me today, for the simple reason that it's raining, nothing more.

It was more than 10 years ago, and we had stopped at a spa in a small Wyoming town on a warm spring Saturday, snatching a little quality time in the amniotic waters. My own father had brought our family here on rare, idyllic weekends when he geared down enough to have fun. So little had changed that it was easy to remember.

Matthew, a 6-year-old so full of enthusiasm that he inspires polite people to say he has "character," is just beginning to understand childhood and its rites of passage. The little guy wasn't much past Page One in the lessons of life. And the lesson this weekend is that the high dive always looks shorter from the shallow end.

So deceived, Matt decides to jump - but only if I'd tread water below, just in case. It is the same deal I'd made with my own father, on the very same high dive, three decades before. Satisfied I'd hold up my end of the bargain, Matt scrambles out of the pool and heads toward the platform in that stiff little run-walk kids do when the lifeguard hollers, "Don't run!"

He spiders up the ladder, and onto the flat square that must seem to him, at this moment, at least a mile above the green water.

From below, I coax him further onto the jumping plank, until I hear my father."It's OK," he says. "Move out to the edge. Don't worry. You'll be OK. I'mright here. That's it, son."

And when I look up, I see a skinny little kid who looks like my son, but not him, standing on the platform, clutching the side rail. Brave enough to be standing there, not brave enough to jump, stuck between his father and endless blue sky.

"Don't be afraid," the father says. "Just come out to the edge and jumpfeet first. That's all. It won't hurt. I'm right here for you."

And the son edges out a little closer to the edge of the plank, which suddenly looks to him as if it will buckle under the weight of a 6-year-old.

"That's right. A little farther now. You're doing great, son. Easy now. See, I'm right here."

The little boy, so brave moments before, permits himself a whimper and ponders whether it's wiser to leap or to step aside for the next jumper. A few swimmers are now engrossed enough in the drama to watch furtively, not certain if they'll witness a triumph or a train wreck.

And mom sits on the deck nearby, rendered superficially stoic behind her sunglasses, pretending not to be nervous. At this distance, you can't see she's biting her lip.

"The water's deep enough, you won't hit anything," dad says in the tone a father reserves for the most genuine moments with his son.

"After you do it, you'll want to do it again. That's the way it was for me. Honest.

"Little feet edge nervously to the brink of the wet plank. In less time than it takes for a father to see himself in his son's eyes, the boy jumps. He doesn't dare breathe or open his eyes, though it takes only a second ... or is it 30 years? ... to splash down.

As the son paddles up through the effervescence of his own plunge into the unknown, he finds his father's hand reaching out to him under the water, true to his word.

"Great job, son!" my dad told me. "Ready to go again?"

And I jumped many times after that, and sometimes my dad was there, just in case.

"Great job, son!" I tell Matt as we dog-paddle to the side of the deepwater. "Ready to go again?"

"Will you be here?" he asks.

Always.

Pictured above: Matt Franscell, who'll graduate from high school in May.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

how sweet:)