One day, roughly thirty years ago, my wife and I were grocery-shopping. While we unloaded the cart at the check-out stand, some liquid from a package of chicken got on my hands. I set it on the belt and without much thought about the implications, looked up at the checker and said, “Your breasts are leaking.”
Her name was Carol, and for a moment, she stopped working, we stopped shopping and enjoyed a really good laugh.
The lifeguard in the picture isn’t Molly. I was going to ask Molly if I could take her picture for this post but it just seemed too creepy. She’s a senior in college; in fact, she’ll graduate on Saturday, and she’s been our early morning lifeguard at the college pool for two years.
We have not learned much about Molly during the time we’ve known her. Once, right before spring break, we learned she is from Texas because that’s where she said she’d be for the break. We know she has a boyfriend, because we’ve seen him drop her off some mornings, and that she rides a bike; her transportation on the other days. We know some of the courses she’s taken because her head is often over a book or her Macbook when we get out of the pool.
We have grown to like Molly and we’ll miss her now that she’s graduating and moving back to Texas for graduate school. She has been kind, genuine, and pleasant in our very brief exchanges between pool and locker room. She’s represented stability, you know, “Situation normal: Molly’s here.” And she’s represented safety; if we’d have tried to drown, she’d have tried to save us.
I developed this post on the morning of Molly’s last day as our lifeguard, while I swam the width of the pool over and over. I searched for a word that describes our relationship with Molly. All I could come up with was superficial and shallow, but those are usually ugly terms for people and I guess relationships too. I guess I could say that we are acquaintances, but I don’t feel like that’s all we are.
So, I settled on superficial and as you can tell by the title, decided there was nothing wrong with it. The truth is most of our relationships are superficial. There are a few folks in my family and some others I work with. And as a teacher, I’ve got students that I get to know pretty well. But by and large, the vast majority of people I see on a regular basis-the servers at our favorite restaurants-the checkers at Walmart-my dental hygienist-my doctor’s nurse, all of these are superficial relationships.
And the thing I thought about between the sides of the pool that morning is how meaningful and enjoyable those relationships are, even though they are superficial. There’s much pleasure to be mined from just getting to know someone, and knowing Molly, even as little as it happened, has been a joy.
By the way, we got to know Carol pretty well too. We talked routinely when we shopped in her grocery store. Eventually, her daughter became my student in the junior high where I taught choir. Her daughter matriculated, and then we left the country. When we moved home, the store had been closed and a different business was in the building.
But I remember Carol, after thirty years. And our relationship was a merely superficial.