Learning How To Swim

Painting by Tina O'Brien

Painting by Tina O'Brien

Swim Test.

Day 1 and already a test.

Wow, Swarthmore, really?

I don’t even know how to swim.


Swim Lesson 1: Dialogue.

Dialogue is thrown about, but it is a sinking life preserver;

Far too often, the only life preserved is the dysfunctional status quo.

Talk is shallow without radical redistribution of power;

Bubbles swallow up words the instant they are uttered.


Swim Lesson 2: Bureaucracy.

Bureaucracy pollutes the waters,

Making them so murky that I can’t see my own two feet,

As they search for solid ground to stand upon

So that I may breathe again.


Swim Lesson 3: Vulnerability.

Vulnerability pushes me far out to sea

Still without a clue how to swim,

While the life guards meant to save me

Safely perch in Adirondack chairs on the distant shore.


Swim Lesson 4: Silence.

Silence takes over as I drown,

Unable to hear anything said above the water.

No systemic change occurs and no meaningful response is made

Because to apologize would be to commit institutional suicide.




Swim Lesson 5: Tides.

The tides start to change;

The moon and universe start aligning towards transformative justice.

The water begins to move,

And I am lifted up towards the surface to breathe.


Swim Lesson 6: Waves.

Waves of support grow stronger each day,

Fortified by a deep love of shared humanity.

The waves transform the Swarthmorean Dead Sea

Into the Sea of Life where I may swim.


Swim Lesson 7: Surge.

Surging forward is a movement of people

Wholly driven by community care,

Profoundly committed to prioritizing the needs of the most marginalized.

This is the way to achieve collective liberation.


Swim Lesson 8: Jump in.

Jump in, in whatever way that you are able;

Especially for those in power, dive into the work of healing both new and old wounds.

Let us all learn how to swim by supporting one another, by holding ourselves accountable,

And by positively transforming the very ocean in which we swim.


Come August  

When the Class of 2022 arrives,

We all must ask ourselves:

Have we passed the swim test?