Updated: Jun 5, 2020
Florence Chadwick was the first woman in the world to swim the English Channel both directions. She was obviously an internationally accomplished athlete with an impeccable track record of long-distance swimming.
In 1952 she accepted another challenge: to swim from Catalina Island off the coast of Southern California to the mainland. She was surrounded by a flotilla of supporting boats, but because of the fog and the choppy waves, she could barely see where she was.
After approximately fifteen hours in the water, she waved the white flag and asked to be taken out of the water. She was physically, emotionally, and spiritually drained.
But then for the rest of the story.
Once she was attended to on the follow boat, she was crestfallen when she learned that the shoreline, her goal, was less than a half mile away. She had been enveloped in fog during her swim and could not see the shore.
At a news conference the next day she said, “It was the fog. I think if I could have seen the shore, I could have made it.”
This is the same philosophy that many of us follow when running a marathon—a daunting challenge of 26.2 miles. Most of us, myself included, if time permits, will drive, walk, or run the final five miles of the race to be certain that we know the landmarks leading up to the finish line. If we get to a certain street, a particular monument, a familiar bridge, we know that the finish line is just around the corner or over the next hill.
Like Florence Chadwick, and like anything in life, if the end is in sight, if we know that the finish line is just up the road, almost always we can marshal the physical and emotional resources to go the distance.
But now for COVID-19 and the domestic unrest. How this is all related?
We are now ensnared in a perfect storm. COVID-19 rages throughout our communities. Everything has been turned upside down. Regardless of where we live or what we do or who we are, almost every decision is impacted by the looming virus threat.
Do we dare travel, visit family, go grocery shopping, see the dentist, and the list goes on and on. And now we are struggling with riots, protests, agitation, vandalism, and civic unrest ignited by the death of an African American gentleman, George Floyd, at the hands of police while being arrested in Minneapolis, just down the road from where I live.
The anger, the outrage that started in my state and now elsewhere is palpable, and there is no clear end in sight to this misery. But there are some lessons that we can learn.
Since there is no clear endpoint to these two catastrophes, we can understand the value of the comment that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
We focus on the next twenty-four hours. We focus on one day at a time. We have schedules, rituals, and routines to orchestrate the day. We create lists, however simple, of priorities. We stay in the day. We are present. Even completing the smallest task is a step.
We reach out, we connect, we remain realistic. We unplug and seek solitude. We remain alert and informed but not paralyzed and take the numbingly endless media loops of doom and gloom and suffering in small doses.
With the frustratingly slow development of a vaccine for the virus and despair of civil disintegration playing out on our streets, let us hope the fog clears so we can see the shoreline. Because if we can see the finish line, if we can see a goal of a vaccine or some sort of reconciliation, we can stay the course and hang in there.
As the great American Rocky Balboa said, “All I wanna do is go the distance.” And if we do take it one day at a time in the company of fellow travelers, we will go the distance, and, yes, the fog will clear and we will see the shoreline.
Florence Chadwick later swam the Catalina Channel successfully.
In the photo, yes, that's me on the left. My wife, Peggy, is edging me out in a marathon last fall. We normally win our age class, but as she reminds me, most people our age are having hip replacements.