On Getting Cut

“Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’m 29 – that means I’m an adult, I’m pretty sure. I have adult things to worry about. Children, husband, bills, job – those sorts of things. So why is it that once in a while I find my thoughts contorting themselves around an isolated event from the 10th grade?

It’s easy for me to rehash: the plain, manila sheet getting posted up on the outside of the girls’ locker room. The plain, manila sheet with thirty or so names – none of which were mine. Coach P had subjected me to weeks of trials and workouts, assessing every ounce of my aquatic proficiency, and done it all seemingly for her own enjoyment. It was cut day. And I got cut.

What stung the most, probably, was that I’d made the team as a 9th grader. Being a 10th grader meant one more grade of competency. One more grade of experience. One more grade of ready-made camaraderie with my teammates. All in all, it meant if I made the team in 9th grade, I should’ve been able to make the team in 10th grade without goggles… and my hands tied behind my back.

But I didn’t. Coach P gave me the runaround. When I went in to speak with her, teary-eyed and more choked up than I cared to admit to my friends, she stuffed me full of stale confidence boosters and clichés. You would have been our 31st. You’ve got a great head on your shoulders. Someday we’ll look back at this and laugh.

It all meant nothing to me. Coach P and I had gotten along fine, but she was undoubtedly a bit fragile and eccentric. I’d watched her explode on some of my teammates (oddly, the same ones who had made the team again this year) for minor infractions. I’d watched her prod and goad our more talented swimmers and make them stay later after practice, when in reality I believe it violated some sort of provision our school district had imposed to limit the amount of time kids spent on sports rather than academics. She wasn’t a bad person, but she wasn’t someone I particularly admired.

Now, funnily enough, I think about her every once in a while when my mind starts to drift. And it’s not because I plan on looking back at the experience and laughing about it with her. In fact, it’s hardly about her at all. It’s about the experience of getting cut.

A change as harsh as getting cut sucks. But it doesn’t suck forever. In fact, it gets quite good after the wound has healed. My abbreviated tenure with the swim team forced me to divert my attention to other areas. I started reading – first just a little at time. Then, pretty soon, I was reading all the time. And then I was writing. And then I was blogging. And then, before I knew it, I was making money blogging. Throughout the rest of high school, college and my young adulthood, I latched onto something I was much more interested in (and frankly much better at) than swimming. Reading and writing enveloped me, and I raced through words much faster than I’d ever been able to race through a pool.

I don’t think you have to get cut to find your calling – that’s just me. I’m sure there are plenty of well-adjusted, friendly human beings who never got cut from a team. Getting cut, however, was a change of pace I’ll never forget. It molded me into something I hardly even knew I wanted to be, which is far more exciting than any 200 meter medley I’ve ever been a part of.

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