The sermonic adage came immediately to mind
A Message from the Kingdom
The sermonic adage came immediately to mind: "I felt sorry for myself because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet."
Barbara and I had gone on a lark to Lake Memphremagog in Newport VT to see and celebrate a friend from the West Hartford aquatic center who was taking the challenge of the 10 mile Kingdom Swim. Others would swim lesser distances. "Kingdom" refers to the northeastern region of the Green Mountain State, the ruralest area in a rural state. The swim was, more or less, to Canada and back. We never found friend Paul but while we were waiting for him to emerge from the lake we saw people of every shape, size, and age rise up, white with water resistant cream, and numbers written large in ink on their biceps.
One swimmer, in his forties I guessed, caught everyone's eye including mine. He had no arms or legs and had to be lifted from the water by friends. Apparently flippers had been attached to the small stumps where legs were supposed to be. He crawled up the sand, complaining just a tiny bit about how hot it was. Then he laughingly and in a strong resonant voice exuding life reported how at the five (of the six which was his distance) mile mark, he was ready to call it quits and have his kayak guide haul him home. Instead he braved it the rest of the way on his own.
He has done just that, I suspect, braved it on his own, for most of his life. He was asked if he wanted some Gatorade. An open bottle was brought to him. He leaned forward, grabbed it with his mouth, lifted it up, and drank it down. He probably manages a computer with a stylus held by his teeth. Amazing! But most amazing was the spirit of the man. Cheerful, full of good humor and plain humor, not a hint of self-pity.
And there I stood just a few feet away, up to that moment bemoaning my lot, weary from standing in the hot sun for an hour or so, thinking that at eighty-four I should be spared the small agonies of this mortal life.
Who on God's good earth am I to complain? I've gotten this far with four limbs, a loving wife, sufficient finances for whatever, a mind clearer than many who were born in 1931, and a small white dog that shadows me in search of her next snack. Do you know where most of the people my age are? Yeah, they aren't.
One who is, a dear friend, classmate, and culinary intimate, asked rhetorically recently, after recounting the insults age has visited on him, leaving him with one leg, one eye, and one good hand: "Can you find me a doctor who will give me a body transplant?" "The only one I know," I reminded him, "is named Frankenstein." My friend laughed. Love that ironic brain of his! It deserves a better venue that it has gotten.
So as I stumble my way into tomorrow, napping over crossword puzzles, envying ninety year old tennis players, and complaining endlessly to myself about the vagaries of growing old, I vow, remembering the dismembered swimmer at Memphremagog, to "quitcher bitchin'" and smile.
Upon returning home yesterday, August 3, 2016, I found in my inbox an email from the "missing" swimmer friend, Paul Epstein, Dr. Paul Epstein, a seventy year old microbiological researcher at the UConn Medical Center. He had dedicated his participation in the marathon swim to his daughter, who had suffered a tragic, untimely death several years ago.
Paul's email contained this text from his Facebook posting:
As many of you are on Facebook you already know that my 10 mile swim on Saturday went well. For those not on FB, this was my post:
“I am now the USMS long distance National Champion at the 10 mile distance. This was one tough, challenging course. The currents were wicked, especially in and around all the islands we had to swim through near the Canadian side. At times it was so strong that I was being pushed backward even while swimming. If you didn’t power your way through these places you were done. If I weren’t doing this to honor Serena, I wouldn’t have made it. Her spirit was with me all the way and carried me through. Aside from waking up this morning with some sore back and shoulder muscles I feel fine. Very invigorating experience.”
Although Naomi volunteered to kayak after Pedro hurt his back and was all set to do so, when we took the recommended boat cruise the afternoon before to get a sense of the course, as we headed up toward Canada the conditions became so rough with waves, whitecaps, high winds and strong currents, it was scary. I think every swimmers jaw on the boat dropped when they looked at what we were going to have to go through. The boat captain announced that it was going to be very difficult for the kayakers given the conditions and unless the kayaker was very experienced, he or she would find it nearly impossible to keep the kayak from being blown off course. Indeed, the winds were so strong that afternoon that they blew some of the buoys off course despite their 30 lb anchors, and the true distance of the course, when we were done turned out to be 11.6 miles by GPS rather than 10. Given that daunting message about the kayaking, after much discussion, at the very last minute, despite his slipped disc, Pedro decided to take lots of pain medication, muscle relaxants and NSAIDS and substitute for Naomi and give it a go. It turns out Pedro is an extremely experienced kayaker from his days as a devoted fly fisherman, and he did an unbelievably superb job. There is no way I would have been able to do this without him. He guided me like a pro through all the toughest sections and kept encouraging me when I thought it was impossible to go on, reminding me that I was doing this for Serena, and that I needed to dig in and keep pushing through the currents, no matter what. This achievement belongs as much, or more, to Pedro as to me. I am very fortunate to have such a selfless, skilled and accomplished son-in-law.
All the Best,
Paul's email also contained this hyperlink to photos from the Lake Memphremagog swim: Paul Epstein's Swim