Lessons from a Lifeguard

I overheard the teenage girl lamenting her new lifeguard duties at a quiet pool.

How is lifeguarding going? Are you loving it?, asked the neighbor, who seemed expectant of reports of contentment with youthful summer bliss. Surely, the girl’s bronzed skin and luscious locks had prepared for 16 years for a job of this Baywatch caliber.

It’s terrible. They put me at the worst pool.

And so it begins.

The girl went on, explaining about how she’s all alone for eight hours and she’s bored out of her mind.

It’s not what I expected, she said.

There aren’t enough lives to save, she didn’t say.

Or maybe I’ve dived too deep. Maybe there aren’t enough teenage boys to watch.

Somewhere, I know there’s a teenage girl lamenting her new lifeguard duties at a crowded pool. She spends her summer blowing her whistle, pointing and telling the kids to walk, not run.

It’s terrible. They put me at the worst pool. The people drive me crazy all day, she’s saying. It’s not what I expected.

There are too many lives to save, she’s not saying.

Oh, I’m so sorry, the neighbor said. I didn’t look over, but I could feel her shoulders slump. I imagine she leaned in to listen to a tale that sounds the same for 16, 36, and 66, all swimming in our own lanes with our heads down, hoping that if we just keep swimming harder and faster on our own (with better focus on perfecting our stroke perhaps) that we’ll find the secret of being content in any and every situation. And we certainly don’t need to learn from other swimmers in neighboring lanes. We’ve got this.

The grown-up didn’t go on to tell the girl to stick it out, that maybe people who she could save would show up to her quiet pool. Instead, she nodded along and brought up, That can’t be safe, you there by yourself. Because safety is always what we grown-ups bring up for drowning lifeguards. You have to get out of there. Fast.

I wonder if the teenage girl went home with a new confidence and demanded for her boss to switch her to a crowded pool. Perhaps she will thrive in the noise and the chaos, or the increased odds of boy watching. Maybe that girl down the street with her own bronzed skin and luscious locks will come alive in the silence.

Of course, the girl never asked for my opinion. For all I know, she never even saw me hiding behind my book all about this bittersweet life of change and learning the hard way. But I think I would tell her to switch pools, to try out the crowded scene, and get to know if you’re a quiet pool or a silent pool type of girl. Blow a few whistles, check out a few cute boys, and save a few lives–see how that feels.

At the very least, please do not do the thing that the grown-ups will tell you to do: do not pledge allegiance for thirty years to the quiet pool and start focusing on building a robust retirement plan.

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