Tuesday, March 23, 2010

story: Greetings

I have been going to The Percy Norman Pool for 13 years, usually swimming two times each week, and most often early in the morning. I love going there, partly because it feels so great to start my day swimming through velvet waters, pulling strong and kicking hard. But Percy Norman is way more than a pool. I’ve been swimming over 50 years, and I’ve never been to a pool with so much community as this jewel of a place.

I’ve wondered why its so special, and the best answer I’ve come up with is warmth and presence of all the staff -- from reception to lifeguards, and particularly Rose. Rose brings wonderful welcoming heart energy to the place. She greets me and everyone as we arrive, and as we leave. She doesn’t miss a thing, so it feels safe to be there, like all of us are held in her awareness. And she writes wonderful inspirational quotes on the chalk board -- changing them every week or so.

The result of the welcoming, and holding and the greeting is that regulars welcome and greet each other. Mostly just smiles and nods, but often conversations in the showers and change rooms, and when people are resting at the end of the pool.

All the welcoming has built up happy memories for me, and I believe many others. It’s like there are echoes of all the greetings making a wonderful patina that covers everything. The building is old and a bit run down, but all the surfaces are alive with the energy of community. I also have wonderful memories of my daughter learning to swim there, and sharing the waters with my mother on regular Friday morning swims.

Against this backdrop, I also have two specific memories:

One day, wanting to communicate with one of the Chinese women who didn’t speak much English, I asked her, “How do you say ‘hello’ in your language?” She replied with a word I don’t remember. I repeated it back to her several times, thinking I was saying “Hello”, and she smiled at me, pleased, I think, at my effort to communicate.

Later, when the first woman had left, a different woman -- who was bilingual -- explained that the word didn’t mean “Hello” but rather was the name of the first woman's dialect. We had a good laugh, at the thought of me repeating the dialect name, thinking I was saying hello. It was a wonderful exchange, and one that opened lines of communication with my translator, someone I’ve visited with ever since.

This multicultural side is integral...simple interactions with all people.
There is an African ethic called ubuntu which holds that, “a person is a person because of other people”. I feel like I’m connected with everyone across all the cultures through our love of swimming, as we share the waters at Percy Norman.

On another occasion, last summer, while having a shower after my swim...I began talking with a woman about why this is a such a great pool. She explained that she had just recently come to Vancouver from England and had swum in many of Vancouver’s pools and that this was her favourite!

"Why?", I asked.

"Because of the sense of community," she explained. She also agreed about the importance of Rose. We went on to chat about everything, quickly downloading salient details of our lives.

Upon learning that I was writing a book, this woman -- her name is Simone -- offered to read a chapter. We met a few weeks later at a tea place on Main Street. Her comments were so helpful that I took her up on her offer to read other chapters, and eventually the whole book. Her feedback has been wonderfully helpful. She is now back in England but continues to send supportive email messages.

That is the power of the Percy Norman Pool.

I hope that with the transition to the new pool there can be a ritual of sorts. Perhaps to gather people in The Percy Norman and then move the energy somehow to the new location. I don’t want to stand in the way of change but it should be mindfully done. As much of what is special at Percy Norman should stay intact, as though we are transplanting a fruit bearing tree and need to make sure to dig deep enough to be able to protect the whole root ball. And for me that most importantly includes the entire staff team. They are the ones who make Percy Norman Pool such a special place. I hope I will be greeted by them all at the new pool.

I feel grateful to the people who made it possible for me to tell this story.

By Kate Sutherland

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