“I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as much as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitude.”
–From the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous
While planning the family vacation several years ago, I decided to return to the lake where I have spent my summers as a young boy. This would be a prolonged stay and allow my grandchildren the opportunity to enjoy what I remembered as the best time of my life.
This would be a driving vacation, and as our journey began, I had high expectations making the 2-day trip quite tolerable. I admitted, however, that I wasn’t looking forward to the drive back since return trips are always a chore. No expectations there, I explained.
We arrived on schedule and began to explore a place I didn’t recognize. The lake of my boyhood no longer existed. The cottages were no longer that—they were summer homes with carpeting and televisions. Gone were the basic box homes with linoleum covered floors for wet swimsuit traffic and a game room where Monopoly was played on rainy days.
The lily pads off the point where I had hunted turtles had been dredged to build piers for the homes now lining the shore. The sandbar I had swam on and had fished for yellow perch had a channel cut through it for boats I deemed too large and too fast for the lake. The absence of fisherman on the lake proved that. But worst of all—the diving stand was gone.
The diving stand, with all its ladders, spring board and high dive was the meeting place for every kid who lived on the northeast shore of the lake. “Meet you at the stand,” was perhaps the most common exchange between us. All kids who swam out to the stand became part of the hierarchy determined not by age, but by ability. This position was determined through a daily game of Follow-The-Leader where everyone had to duplicate the jump, dive, or swimming feat the one before them performed. I was the undisputed champ at this for most of my summers.
I would lead off with easy stunts to let the little kids have a chance, but when things got serious, I took out my competition with the “frog dive.” This was performed by springing high in the air off the board, pulling your feet up under you while turning out your knees and with your elbows extended, holding your hands together on your chest. This caused you to take the full impact of the water on your head. Those who could get in position usually chickened out at the end, throwing out their hands to break the splash. When on of my cousins finally perfected the dive, I started doing it from the high dive……..but there would be no more Follow-The-Leader, the diving stand was history.
I spent my vacation complaining about how things had changed and spent hours by myself lamenting my losses. It didn’t matter that there was a new diving stand, it was in a different place and it didn’t have a high dive! I was so busy feeling sorry for myself that I failed to see and hear the excitement and joy of my grandchildren as they discovered the lake in their time, on their terms.
Finally, it was time to leave. Everyone had gotten on the road and we would leave on Saturday morning for the drive back. That evening I felt lost and discouraged. “What is missing?” I asked as I went to bed. “Help me,” I prayed as I drifted off to sleep.
We were up and ready to go by early morning. I decided to take one last look at the lake and carefully walked on the pier, wet and slippery with the morning dew. It was perfectly still at that early hour and since no wind had come up, the lake was like glass, reflecting the images of all that it saw. Something seemed different. As I looked around the lake, I thought I could see the lily pads at the point, and the colors of the sandbar. I sensed the presence of fishermen on the lake. My gaze turned to the north and there I saw—the diving stand. Just like I remembered it; the blue spring board and the silver high dive outlined against the shoreline. Standing on the high dive was a young boy who looked strangely familiar. The summer sun had tanned his skin and bleached his hair almost white. A baggy pair of swim trunks hung precariously on his narrow hips. He was laughing and waving at me.
As I waved back I felt something deep inside me awaken as I realized what had been missing. I discovered that part of recovery that lies just beyond the edge of acceptance—and as my tears finally fell, I reclaimed the joys of my time at the lake, the ones I had buried under anger and resentments from another time.
The boy waved a final time as I silently acknowledged my thanks. “Meet you at the stand,” he seemed to say and as the vision faded, he turned and did a frog dive into the lake.
During the trip home, I never once checked to see if we were making good time. I simply enjoyed the journey.