“Come get me. Now.” The text read.
“Ruh-Roh,” Scooby Doo said in my head. Dive practice doesn’t end for another half hour. “Why is my son bailing early?” I wondered.
Ten minutes later he climbed into my car, squinting. “I smacked so hard my contact flew out,” he said quietly. The whole left side of his face was red, his eye swelling. “I smacked so hard I couldn’t breathe. I had to lay there for like 30 seconds, just to catch my breath. Coach said I could go home.”
My son was trying to earn a spot on the state dive team, a rare feat for a freshman, and he had to land a hard dive, a 2 ½, to qualify. I’ve learned that in any dive that ends in a whole number, you enter the water feet first. But any dive that ends in ½, means you enter the water head first, or hopefully, hands first, in a dive position. And if you can’t get around fast enough, you enter the water face first. Hard. Divers call it a face plant. Or a SMACK.
When we got home, I handed my son three things: an ice pack, some ibuprofen, and a stack of rejection letters I’ve received over the past year from various publishers who have rejected my book proposal. “I’ve never been brave enough to dive,” I said. “But I sort of know how you feel. This is a writer’s version of smacking,” and I read the middle paragraph of a few letters.
You know all about the middle paragraph if you’ve ever applied for a job. In college, we called those letters the “Thank you, ‘blank’ you, thank you” letters, and we papered our apartment walls with them.
My son didn’t say a thing, but he was up at 4:30 the next morning and back in the pool at 5. I’ve never been prouder.
A few days later I woke up early and started to pray. “Dear God, please let my son hit all of his dives today. Please let him qualify for state. He has worked so hard, and he only has two more chances to qualify. Please.”
A few hours later I watched as my son failed his very first dive of the day.
He was doing 11 dives that day, and he failed the very first one. I watched him swim to the side and take his seat behind the boards, completely dejected. He struggled on his next few dives, unable to recover from his catastrophic start. And that’s when a small miracle occurred.
As he was drying off after yet another shaky dive, an older diver from another team approached him. He didn’t know my son, and I couldn’t hear their exchange, but whatever he said transformed my son. My son went from “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” cover boy to Mick Jagger impersonator, strutting around the pool deck like a little rooster. He hit every dive after that, and after each dive, the older boy would meet him at the side and give him a high five.
On the drive home, my son said, “Did you see that guy that came up to me?”
“Ummm, yeah,” I said. What I thought was, “See him? I want to marry him. What did he say?”
“He asked me how old I was. I told him I was a freshman. He said, ‘You’re only a freshman? You’re kidding! I can’t believe you’re trying those dives as a freshman. You are going to be incredible by your senior year.’ And then he high-fived me after every dive! Did you see that, mom?’”
I nodded. I nodded, but I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t say anything, because I couldn’t speak.
Life is full of smacks: “Your job’s been eliminated.” SMACK. “I’m seeing someone else.” SMACK. “I’m sorry to wake you, this is the police…” SMACK. “We found someone who’s a better fit for this position.” SMACK. “We found a suspicious spot on the x-ray.” SMACK.
For some reason, God doesn’t stop us from smacking. He does, however, reward us for not giving up. We can let the water suck us under, or we can suck it up, struggle to the side, haul ourselves out of the water, and get back on that board.
My son had the courage to get back on that board, and it was only then that the senior diver came over to encourage him, to give him some needed perspective.
While he did not qualify for state that day, my prayers were answered, none-the-less, and my son taught me a powerful lesson in perseverance. Excuse me, I have some more book proposals to send out.