The swim club was abuzz. “There’s a whale out there,” a flushed-face woman announced as I dumped my bag on the locker room floor. No, she hadn’t seen it, but everyone was talking about it. “Someone said it’s just past the opening,” she said, as I stepped carefully into my swimsuit.
I swim in an enclosed part of the San Francisco Bay called Aquatic Park. The opening is just that, and will lead you to Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and eventually the Pacific Ocean.
Soon, my brother and I met up on the beach, in our bathing suits and fluorescent neoprene caps. Sometimes he tries to get me to swim to the opening and I usually say no. It’s further than I normally feel like swimming, and if something happens out there, it’s a long way back. That morning, however, we didn’t discuss our route. There was a whale out there, and we were swimming out to see it.
As always, the cold water stung for the first minute or so. I kept moving and breathing, and soon the burn was replaced with joy.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about joy and burden. In the case of 54-degree water, for me, the joy of swimming in the Bay supersedes the burden of the initial discomfort. Many lifestyle choices come with both joy and burden: marriage, children, and travel to name a few. When the joy greatly outweighs the burden, it’s a no-brainer.
Swimming out to see a possible whale felt especially joyful.
I focused on pushing my arms through the water. I take this cancer-prevention medicine that makes my legs tire easily (joy of lowering rate of recurrence outweighs burden of unpleasant side effects). Just past the large buoy, we passed a swimmer we know. She was easy to spot with her graceful breaststroke, bright blue visor, and stylish sunglasses. “I saw a whale!” she said breathlessly. “I stayed out ten extra minutes just staring at it.” This was the motivation I needed so I readjusted my goggles and kicked hard to catch up with my brother.
I spotted something black in the distance. “Is that it?”
“That’s a bird,” he said with mild exasperation (joy of being with my brother outweighs burden of feeling like a little sister). I reminded him I wasn’t wearing my glasses, and he reminded me of all the times I’ve thought people were seals and tree branches were sealions.
We swam over tiny waves, past a brown wooden boat named the Grace Quan. And then, just when we arrived at Muni Pier, right at the opening, we saw a giant spray in the distance. We both shrieked with delight. A dark shape glided across the surface and we kept shrieking. A whale! Even without my glasses, I could see its shiny coat. I was starting to shiver but I wanted more whale action. We treaded water for a while.
“Remember when we all rented that house and Mom banged her knee and tried to get all of us to go to a park?” Daniel said suddenly, looking out towards Angel Island.
“Yea,” I said. We were going to see our mother later that day. She wants to fire her social worker because she thinks she’s patronizing and too expensive (joy of having mother alive outweighs the burden of navigating the aging process with her).
My body was starting to feel warm which meant I had about 30 minutes to get to the sauna. We had to turn back. As we breaststroked side by side, I told him the entire plot of the movie The Whale. He asked me, “What did the students think of him when they saw his body for the first time?”
“They were repulsed,” I said.
“But then he takes a few steps towards his daughter- the redhead from Stranger Things- and dies.”
“Oh,” he said. “That’s it?”
Sona Sondhi says
OMG – love this one, not least because I briefly feature in it 🙂 I really love the joy vs burden concept and one of my favorite sentences was “ joy of being with my brother outweighs burden of feeling like a little sister”
I’m SO glad you both got to see the whale…we met D in the water today – said he would be forever underwhelmed in the ocean henceforth….what with no further whale sightings 🤣
Rebecca Handler says
Thank you Sona! We’ll have to keep our eyes open for sharks or UFOs.