Monday, November 10, 2008

Into the Deep End

When I was a kid, about 15, and in high school, part of the PE curriculum was a semester of swimming. I hated swimming because I was afraid of water. Plus, I hated the idea of my scrawny, POW-looking body out there in the open for everyone to see. I dreaded the swim semester as it approached; but that's all I could do because there was no getting out of it. The swim teacher was the swim team coach--a grizzled old Drill Sergeant kind of coach who had no interest in anybody not working for the glory of his team. So I and other ne'er-do-wells in gym class could easily do the minimum amount to pass the various tests as they came around--dog-paddling, floating, swim the width, etc. These were all easy, even for me. But the biggest thing came at the end of the semester. Everyone had to dive off the board into the deep end. That was the stuff of sleepless nights and continuously-running angst.

Maybe I thought that by ignoring it it would somehow not happen, but all the days we were supposed to be practicing for the final test--diving in with the whole class and the coach with whistle and clip board watching--I spent sitting on the bleachers trying to look like I was not terrified. But the day did come, and my dive for the grade, with everyone watching, was going to be my first. I had no idea how to do it. But I had a plan. Since I was such a lousy swimmer, I thought the less deep I went in, the less distance back to the surface and a substance I was meant to be in. So I planned, immediately upon hitting the water, to begin breaking my descent into the ten feet of water with every motion of every limb. So that's what I did. After an eternity staring down at the pool like some cliff diver down in Mexico, I sort of half stepped-half jumped off the edge to fall the eight feet or so and slapped the surface. In I went, but all my plan got for me was to slow my descent, as to my horror I went to the very bottom anyway. And then I found I had no momentum to get back up. And I had no oxygen left, since I used it all in the struggle to fight the laws of nature all the way down. I think that was the longest two minutes of my life, as all the strength I had left was barely enough to propel me upward.

That scene occurred to me the other day as I was thinking about the steps being taken to avoid a deep recession, or even a depression. Instead of letting bad loans go south, and the firms that invested in them with such outlandish abandon go bankrupt; instead of letting it all shoot straight to the bottom, where, as any experienced diver knows, you can push off the bottom after a fast descent, and come shooting out of the depths in the minimum time; instead of this, we are fighting the descent with everything we've got. And we're still sinking. And we will continue to sink until the market, which we think we can over rule, tells us we are at the bottom and can rise again. We are going to be holding our breath for a long time as one flailing move after the next fails to stop our downward motion. And its going to be a long painful rise before we get our heads above water where we can breathe again.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Harold, I instinctively think you are correct. However, the conceptual problem isn't just your two alternatives. Their is a third scenario. And that is shooting to the bottom... and cracking your head on the concrete. The possibility of that happening is, at least in part, causing all this hand wringing.