Near the shore stands a boy, barely six years old. Olive skinned with bushy curls of dusty brown hair on his head. He'd run towards the crashing surf at full speed, waving his arms and laughing - only to retreat from the oncoming waves a moment later in what seemed joyous fear. His father stood nearby, offering quiet reassurances and picking him up whenever the child would somehow miscalculate his jumps into the tide, or get water into his eyes.
Teaching you to swim. Letting go of your fears.A girl, splashing in the water a few yards away. Perhaps a year older than the boy if there was actually any difference at all. She was dressed in a swimsuit that seemed designed for a woman, but she played in it without any regard to style. It was like she had stuffed enough socks into her mothers fanciest shoes and then gone outside to play kickball with her friends.
the younger shadow of a shiverkiss unforgotten.
She'd hold her nose with the fingers of one hand, and then fall under the water. You could tell the move was supposed to be more graceful, but it was anything but. Her legs would kick half-in and half out of the water, only propelling her a few feet before she'd come crashing to the surface; gasping for air and wiping her eyes, pushing her hair behind her ears before looking behind to get an idea of how far she had traveled.
Watching her swim. The politics of children.Forgetting the waves that had once filled him with fear, the boy skipped on tiptoe to where she was swimming. His hands above the water, creating balance for the unrehearsed underwater steps he was taking. He shouted a greeting, repeating it again when she seemed not to hear above the sounds of the waves. Soon he was close enough that she couldn't help but hear. He smiled and waved, and asked,
"What's your name?"She studied him for a moment in silence, smiled, and then leaned into the water, swimming away in the opposite direction. Unshaken, the boy moved again into deeper water, repeating the question again and again as he gave chase. Each time the answer was the same; a quiet glitter in the eyes, followed by another move away.
She may have only been seven, but with a single move she had transformed the boy into Mogwai staring silently from the river's edge at the girl getting water for her village. He turned to ask for my help, only to be surprised by the touch of a hand and the shouting of the word "tag!" as she appeared from under the water beside him, only to escape again as he attempted to reach out and continue the game.
Following wherever she lead, he asked her name again and again -- never receiving an answer.
Qualis pater, talis filius.
It's the kind of moment that humbles a man. A place where you quietly see a reflection of yourself in the child that you have. A real-life movie of the boy that you were, the man that you would become, and the legacies that you never realize might be passed along until you see them played out on stage in front of you:
The boy was getting workedIt's a father's place to let the son play in the water. To let him get comfortable with the pull of the tide and to develop that unique mix of love and fear that one needs to have in order to respect the ocean -- But this was a totally different story:
Nothing short of drowning was going to unwrap my son from her finger.
The sun traveled across the sky and the tide began to pick up, drawing the waters higher and higher to the shore. Soon it would be time to leave, time to return to the places that we came from. Yet despite all of his effort, the boy was nowhere closer to knowing the her name than he had been before.
Part of me wanted to help him, but I knew it was already too late.
Finally the hour came where we had to leave. He protested of course, but the fatigue was already showing in his eyes. He turned to his new friend and waved, saying goodbye with the same excitement that he had used to say hello, and then took my hand as we began to move towards the shore.
When suddenly there was a splash in the water and a familiar hand tagged him on the back. She smiled at him once again with her eyes and said, "You can call me Flower."
Which is exactly what he did.
[Listening to: Gnarls Barkley, "St. Elsewhere"]