When I was growing up we had a poster in our basement play area that showed two kids playing and the caption from Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, which is the buddy system verse. "Two are better than one, for if they fall one will pick up his brother" is what the poster read, not a full reading of the biblical text, but this concept imprinted on my mind early on. Teams work because we can help each other pick up slack. Community. Cooperation. Collaboration. Good stuff.
This lesson applies to various areas of my life, including swimming because as all good campers know, you dare not step into the lake without your swim buddy. We'd run to the shoreline and approach a person of comparable ability. "Swim buddy?" "Swim buddy!" "Let's swim, buddy!" Occasionally the lifeguard would blow a whistle and all the swimmers would find their buddy and raise their clasped hands above their heads, providing an easy and accurate head count. This system is used in public pools and at Boy Scout camps, too. No one goes near the water without a swim buddy.
Swim buddies in Lake Michigan.
When I went on my only spring break vacation as a college student, my girlfriends and I used a variation of this practice. In the interest of avoiding assault, we agreed to use the buddy system as we navigated Panama City, Florida. Whether we went to the beach, the clubs, or shopping, we had a buddy with us to help keep us safe. (We had additional rules about no one else in our hotel room and no getting in enclosed vehicles, especially ones with tinted windows.) We returned from our week of fun without incident. Buddy systems work.
I was all-time swim buddy for my kids until they reached the age where I didn't need to supervise them. I still told them they could swim but only with a buddy, usually a brother, but often a friend. Our backyard pool rule number one was No One Swims Alone. Safety First keeps people from going under. My kids broke plenty of house rules over the years, but they never broke this one until they were out of high school and by then if they wanted to take a dip after work, I felt confident they'd be okay swimming solo.
As part of our Safety First protocols, we have a fence around our pool to keep out visitors, but the fence only works on human visitors. Every day someone needs to check the pool and skimmer for others who sneak past the barricade. Over the years I've rescued a variety of bodies, alive and dead, including:
a few baby birds,
a legion of beetles,
hundreds of crickets,
too many moles,
hoards of toads,
plenty of squirrels,
dozens of chipmunks,
flocks of dragonflies,
bunches of spiders,
a handful of snakes,
and lots of bees.
When I swim I check the pool for trespassers and filter to make sure I've scooped and skimmed out anything that might float into my path. Then I pull on my swim cap, adjust my goggles, and dive in. I swim solo, it has been years since anyone has jumped in the pool with me.
Yesterday I went through these rituals and was on my sixth lap across the pool when something caught my eye as I was taking a breath mid-stroke. I turned my head and looked back to see a chipmunk treading water against the side of the pool. Its little face was just above the surface of the water and its paws moved frantically while it tried to stay afloat. Of course I yelled. I had no idea where that thing came from! I had turned into a swim buddy and I needed to perform a rescue! But I was not going to touch it with my bare hands because as much as I love nature, I do not love my skin getting clawed up. I kicked my way across the pool, climbed up the ladder, ran across the deck, grabbed the net, and jumped back in to swim up behind the little critter.
I skimmed that chipmunk up to the deck and it sat there with its fur flattened. It was in a panic, breathing hard, but it looked up at me with beady eyes and I saw the gratitude there.
Can you see the gratitude?
That chipmunk sat on the skimmer net for ten minutes catching its breath. I'll never know what possessed it to jump in the pool after me, but I know I was a hero yesterday and saved a life.
That, friends, might be the weirdest thing that ever happened to me while swimming.