Summer in the high desert of Colorado is delightful, at least it is for kids. As you get older and have things that have to be done the heat becomes less of a friend and more of an adversary, but as a kid it means long days, no school, and of course the community swimming pool.
I stood at the end of the pool, its blue water shimmering with wavelets caused by the other celebrants splashing all around in the shallow end. I was at the deep end. I didn’t know how to swim. I hadn’t been to swimming lessons and I never had anyone tell me what this swimming thing was all about. I take that back, I actually had received quite a bit of instruction on how to learn how to swim. Grandpa told me that his dad taught him to swim by throwing him into the lake. My step dad said the same thing only his was in the river. I think that one of my uncles told me that was the way he learned too. So here I stood at the end of the deep end of the pool.
I had very little fear of water though I nearly drowned as a small boy in Lake Altuna near Atlanta. Wading in the shallow water I found a hole and down I went. My mom’s boyfriend fished me out. The passage of time nearly erased any negative images from that time when my undeveloped mind almost got a quick exit from this life. I was nearly fearless as I stood with my toes just over the edge. What I was fearful of was getting caught and chewed out by the lifeguard, that tall blond goddess who I am certain didn’t like kids much at all. A lot of my friends liked getting her attention. She scared me. I looked to the left and to the right. Goddess was talking to another nearly adult with her head turned away. Now was my chance. I leaped into the water and allowed its wonderful wet coolness envelope my body. I reveled in the feel of it as I plunged in almost in slow motion. First my feet, then my body, then finally my head. I reached skyward instinctively to bring myself back up into the sunshine and to breath in deeply of summery freedom. That was where things went wrong. Instead of going back up toward the light I was still going downward toward the bottom of the pool. Wait a minute. This isn’t right. I’m supposed to burst through the surface in a dripping blaze of conquering glory, instead I am a twisting, turning, lung burning chunk of leaden weight headed downward. At the moment that I thought I was not going to be able to hold my breath any longer I felt those long, elegant fingers of the goddess tangle up in my curly top and then yank me, sputtering and spewing, to the surface and back into the reality. She was ticked. I was embarrassed. I was then summarily banished, unsuccessful, back to the kids end of the pool.
Looking back on things with the clarity of years, I don’t recall ever seeing my grandpa swim. Neither do I recall seeing my step dad or uncles swim. Perhaps that’s why there was this baby boom, all those old cats who couldn’t swim compensated by staying home with their young wives instead of going to the swimming hole. That doesn’t explain my step dad or uncles, but trying to explain them defies explanation anyway.
One could set back in their arm chair or bistro chair and cluck their tongue, confident that I learned a valuable lesson that day. Not so much! I am not exactly wired that way. I watched some other kids who knew how to swim, imitated their strokes, then jumped in at the deep end again. That time I was sent out of the pool for the entire week. I came back, tried again. This time I swam a bit, but because I couldn’t swim the length of the pool I was relegated to the other side of the rope. I watched some more, copied the strokes, and finally triumphed the following summer. I am not a strong swimmer. Distance swimming is not for me either. But I can swim the length of the pool, tread water, and float with some sense of ease.
Changing lenses to a wide angle I can see that I never really learned how to wade in at the shallow end of the pool. I jump, I sink, I get rescued and then I try again with a little more knowledge. I do it in work, play, and ministry. I have tried to be cautious but it is like trying to be left handed when I am really right handed.
While the managerial types that seem to run all the cool stuff in the world don’t really approve of the deep end method of knowledge and production, they seem to be giving it somewhat of a knowing nod. They are starting to get the idea that in certain things the deep end method is the best way to measure outcomes. Face it, someone has to strap themselves into the experimental jet at some point and fly the damn thing! I guess there is also an abundance of happy idiots like myself who will sacrifice themselves to jump first. Then the managerial types can collate the data, draw the conclusion, and make policy while safely dry behind a desk.
The downside to deep end methodology is that as a practitioner it is very easy to get dead. That’s kind of the final failure and definitely puts an end to your experimentation and perhaps even keeps a few wary explorers from trying. Face it, if you get eaten by a lion while exploring that end of the jungle the next guy or gal is likely not going to follow right away.
The great thing about deep end methodology is that it generates story; lots of story! Story is fun, story is captivating, and story is motivating. So many of us are energized initially by story. Without the initial idea and the crisis there can never be the resolve that tells us that we too can reach out, sometimes at great risk, and live through the crisis and land at the other side able to swim, or at least more motivated to wear a floaty when near the water’s edge!
Story is amazing. As a full blooded Irish descendant I am intrinsically connected to story. The oral tradition is a part of my DNA. It seems for a long time like story was becoming lost in method, but a new old thing that has cropped up in the past couple of decades. It is a model of mentoring. It is where the younger and the stronger rely upon the story, the experiences of the older and more experienced to help them prepare for the adventure and challenge that lies before them. It is the place where they can gain access to story that will motivate them and perhaps even caution them.
Of course my grandpa’s story could have gotten me killed but that is because he held some of it back. I don’t really think he learned how to swim. I don’t think he had a golden tanned, blond goddess to drag him out of the deep end by the locks otherwise he likely would have enjoyed pools and ponds and water holes all through his life rather than living the dry and withered up existence of land bound.
Mentors cannot hold anything back, which is really difficult sometimes since the most embarrassing part of the story may be the turning point in the lesson. The graphic failure and the ensuing pain of free falling into the deep end without first checking to see if there is water is just as important as the glory of the launch. As a mentor the value of the whole story is paramount. One cannot learn how to succeed unless they are well antiquated with failure.
I have been asked to be a mentor to a couple of young guys who are starting out in ministry. My best qualification for that position is that I tried a lot of stuff and didn’t die in the process. My story is full because I tried most everything that I could try. I jumped in at the deep end more often than not. Success was my goal each and every time, but in the final analysis the success wasn’t found at the stories natural conclusion end but rather in how the story has lived on and what can be taken away. I guess I get the job because I did a lot of stupid and I didn’t get dead. I came close, but that makes the story far more interesting.