A Brief Escape
We used to subscribe to both the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, but I stopped reading newspapers a while ago. Nothing good seemed to be happening in the world, and spending an hour each morning on the newspaper felt ill advised. I didn’t want to spend my time with illness, murder and the politics of Trump. Not that I could—or wanted to—deny any of this. But steeping myself in the intricacies of tragedy and loss was bad for my well-being. So I cancelled our subscriptions, and began taking a look each morning at Google News, very occasionally clicking on an article to read in more depth.
Soon enough, my abbreviated version of staying “abreast” felt self punishing. The occasional story of courage in the face of Covid or a scientific advance caught my eye, but these positive moments became less and less frequent, and I found myself breezing past one headline after another telling me about mounting Covid deaths, mass shootings, hurricanes, fires, police brutality, and heat waves. I want to be informed and certainly have no desire to turn a blind eye to the unhappiness and suffering of people near and far. But reading about it all each morning felt like ingesting a daily capsule of poison. I felt more and more helpless and in despair.
Then one afternoon, I took my granddaughters to their swim lesson in the Oakland hills. As my car snaked its way higher and higher, I felt further and further from my every day life. Climbing toward the sky with Amelie and Poppy chattering happily in the back seat, the “real” world felt less and less real. Masks, Covid tests, acres and acres on fire? Was that really happening?
Once we parked and arrived at the pool itself, life felt like a dream. Two huge expanses of blue water, dozens of children playing, diving, jumping, calling to one another or to their parents seated on lounge chairs around the water, splashes, sunlight glinting off the water. No crying or complaining, but laughter, tinkling voices carried in the air, the occasional whistle of a lifeguard.
Amie, Poppy and I set up our take-out dinner and towels in a poolside cabana, then the girls scurried over to the pool and jumped in. “Gram, watch me dive,” Poppy’s voice rang out.” “Watch how far I can swim,” Gram,” Amelie called to me.
While they had been squabbling in the car, the next time I looked, the girls were arm-in-arm at water’s edge, counting, “Three, two, one,” then jumping in together, creating a splash that nearly reached my chair. “Hey, Amelie, let’s try that again,” I heard Poppy call. And they did, surfacing this time all smiles and laughter.
At 6:30, they found their teacher, and spent the next half hour practicing their strokes. Poppy seemed particularly proficient at the crawl, while Amelie had mastered the beast stroke. “It’s easy,” she told me later. Toward the end of the half hour, the teacher had them race against each other, timing their laps. And instead of the complaints about “not fair,” “cheating,” “she kicked me,” I half expected, there was more laughter and smiles.
As we gathered up our towels and leftover food, the three of us were all smiling. The pool crowd had thinned, many families on their way home to dinner, back perhaps to the real world with all its sadness and suffering. But for a few hours, we had left that world behind, and I felt lighter and happier.
I learned a lesson that afternoon. I can live in the real world, acknowledge its tragedies and problems, and do my part to alleviate or solve them. But I can also choose to escape from time to time, into whatever frees me from the weight of the world. And whenever I do, I’m better able to live my very real life around the very real people I know and love.