25 naked squirming ten year old boys standing with their toes probing the edge of the Olympic sized swimming pool in the sticky chlorinated warmth on the day before Thanksgiving.
Naked swimming was standard practice for the boys. The girls wore black, shapeless suits. But the boys got nothing but shame. I was the third boy from the left. Squinty eyed blurry dreaded terror. Couldn’t really see anything but the endless foaming blue water, green and grey pennants hung from the ceiling, an outline of a grandstand above the tiled walls. Frozen in the creepy warmth with no clue at all how to swim.
They probably stopped the naked boy swimming practice somewhere in the last 30 years. Sometime after it put a lot of shrinks kids through college and stamped a silicon terror memory chip on the years of little boy brains lined up on the side of the pool, curled toes, stretching, ready to jump.
Splashing in dizzy blue fear, stomach tight steel coil, that omnipresent weight carried underneath that little boy buzz cut, scared big eyes wondering, what is wrong with me? A weight that never went away, pushed me deeper down to the bottom of the pool.
Then the voice.
That voice pulled me up. Bass note strong. But a different kind of strong. Not like the soldiers or the baseball players or any given grown up strong. A kind of strong that said: he was scared too.
That voice and that music blared over the loud speaker system in the pool during the swimming class. So simple. So clear. So new kind of strong. Everyone could hear it, but it kept me afloat. In bass tone iron:
“I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time.
I keep the hand out for the tie that binds.
Because you’re mine, I walk the line.”
Then the scary warmth of the pool gives way to the cleansing grey winter winds of November the second I step outside the gym.
Then two naked souls, a bit older but still very young. On a lost moss dripped Faulkner forest road miles from even a whisper of another human being, or so I imagined, on the way to see her mom in Gulfport Mississippi. It would just be the three of us this Thanksgiving. That’s the thing about Thanksgiving. It could be two of you, three of you, or one of you. Caution! Danger or joy or a mixture up ahead.
The tiny forests pond just a sliver glimpse from the road.
“What if someone sees us?”
“They’ll think we’re on a picnic!”
And she laughs. When a southern woman laughs, the tupelo honey flows sweetening your very life breath. When a southern woman’s voice says your name there are brand new stars that explode like diamonds in an endless sky.
“Here, I said, this will help.” And now the voice has turned to harmony. Listen. A happy gliding San Francisco guitar sailing on harmony
“Now the first days are the hardest days
Don’t you worry anymore.”
And we leave the car naked, run down the forest path, splashing into the silent forest pond.
While the song of thanks sings way beyond the two naked kids in the forest, way behind the lyrics. The song of thanks sings to anyone who can hear the harmony anywhere:
“Come, hear, Uncle John’s Band
By the riverside
Got some things to talk about
Here, beside the rising tide.”
And we swim.
With all the ghosts of Thanksgiving pasts gathered and paid homage. From the sticky bad to the comforting to the promise and the joyous. Remembering every one.
A November rain sleets down to wash clean Chicago again. And the house is warm and dry.
Love fills the home where terror once rippled down the line of the 25 naked boys waiting to splash.
And thanks couldn’t even begin to tell the story of your living love, who approaches cooking the meal, right this moment, the way Michelangelo must have gotten ready to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
So the Voice, from the swimming pool and the Harmony from the forest pond bubbles out from these pages so to all those who find themselves in fear, or in separation from their voices, or in combat, or wracked in the infinite number of shapes and sizes of anything from terror to sadness that any kind of gathering around a holiday table can bring.
The Voice from the swimming pool and the harmony from the forest pond gives a fist bump of joy to anyone and everyone who is exactly where they want to be. To anyone who ever stopped by this page and let me know you were here, my thanks is beyond words. And if you came by more than once, my gratitude is boundless.
As to what comes next, I’m clueless. And of course I’m worried. Who wouldn’t be?
But I have heard these voices.
I have been known to jump.
So I sing to the world.