When Lynne Cox was a little girl on her swim team in New Hampshire, she never wanted to get out of the pool. She wasn’t the fastest on the team and she rarely won races but that didn’t matter: she was always the last to get out of the water.
In her book, Swimming to Antarctica, she tells the story of one particularly blustery morning. All the other eight-year-olds on the team were complaining loudly and energetically about the cold water, the cool air, the ominous sky and the discomfort they felt in the pool. Their coach, reluctant to give up on the practice entirely, offered them a trade: they could get out and dry off if they spent extra time on calisthenics in the locker room. They took him up on it and scurried inside. Everyone except Lynn. She asked him if she could keep swimming.
Turns out that her slower strokes, and her naturally buoyant body allowed her to remain at a comfortable temperature in cold water longer than almost anyone else. As each of her teammates would pass her and complete their laps, they’d stop swimming and linger by the side of the pool. Because of their inactivity, and because most didn’t have as much body fat, they would quickly begin to cool down. It wasn’t until one of her coaches recognized Lynne’s ability to withstand the cold and simply endure being in the water longer than most swimmers that she began to understand that her pace and her body type were assets, not liabilities. She drew on her natural gifts to train for the more challenging, longer, colder swims she came to love. Starting at age fifteen, Lynne Cox began a career where she would set and break numerous cold-water swim records. She documents the natural accommodations her body seemed to make to the water temperatures and many of her incredible achievements in her book.
So what does this have to do with love? In a word: nothing. But in another way, I keep thinking about love and marriage and Lynne and her determination to stay the course. My parents were married nearly fifty-two years before my dad died. Many of their friends have also been or will soon be married fifty years as well. I like to think of them as the long distance swimmers of love, if you will. Maybe all those couples decided, consciously or not some five decades ago, that their marriages would withstand even the coldest of times, because that’s what marriages did.
Seems to me that staying together is a choice couples make every day, year in and year out, whether they acknowledge it or not. Sure, you may have repeated the “in good times and in bad” pledge with sincere intentions but who ever imagines what “the bad” could possibly be over the next few decades? Some years, it feels so very easy to remain true to that commitment. Some days, it feels very impossible. No one ever tells you that. And even if they do, you think they can't possibly mean it.
But I’ll bet if someone asked my parents or their friends about "the bad times," they’d say, “Of course it’s hard! You have your good and your bad and that’s your marriage. It’s called being a human being; being imperfect. It's called life. Why would marriage be anything else?”
And yet, many marriages do break apart. Many of them should. They’re toxic; they’re hurtful and debilitating. The thing us, ending a marriage, even a very harmful one, is a sad time. I’ve never met a couple who were thrilled to divorce. Somewhere inside, even the most hostile partners must somehow mourn the end of their one-time hopeful story of what might have been between them, even when they know it will never be. It’s a loss for everyone around them, too.
Couples like my parents and their friends, or couples who simply stay the course, through tide and weather, and count on smoother waters ahead understand so much about marriage and partnership and loyalty and “getting through.” Maybe they know exactly what many of us haven’t figured out yet. Maybe it’s this simple: sometimes people choose to stay together because they promised they would. That’s it. Sometimes that’s enough. A strong partnership outlasts the bad times - even the bad years – because all the good they share, especially when it feels like a dim memory, is so very worth it. These champions of long time love never jump out of the pool because of a cool breeze or a cloudy sky. They don't start looking for more comfortable surroundings or another way to keep warm when they begin shivering.
They just keep swimming.