A curious thing happened recently. I was going through an old family photo album my mother had just sent me. The kind with the black pages and little B&W prints with the cute scalloped edges. I had carefully placed the crumbling pages with mother’s handwritten notes in white ink next to a binder I had opened earlier. The binder held my clippings from the day I won the second annual Manhattan Island Marathon Swim in 1983. (I won’t bore you with a blow-by-blow account of that eight-hour, 30-mile circumswim around the island here; you can read more about it on Quora.
I kept looking back and forth between the old photos and the binder clippings when it struck me. It hadn’t really sunk in that while I was stroking down the Hudson River toward the Battery in 1983, I was swimming over the exact spot where my family and I had arrived on a passenger liner from Germany in 1953 to start a new life. Thirty years from one event on the Hudson to the other.
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus famously said that “no man every steps twice in the same stream.” Meaning that it’s not the same water, and it’s not the same man. True enough. But here I was in the clippings, swimming over the same river bed and along the same shoreline that creates the Hudson River’s eastern boundary as it flows down into Upper New York Bay. Skirting one of the most famous and important islands in the entire world: Manhattan. The connection was there.
Another thing surprised me as I studied the old photos and clippings. And I had completely forgotten it. In the Sports Illustrated article, the writer, Dan Levin, mentions the name of my support boat (every swimmer was required to have one) in that swimming race. It was a small launch called the Full Moon, whose captain’s name I’ve sadly forgotten, but who’s standing next to me below with the microphone, post-swim.
I wouldn’t fully realize it for another 30 years or so, but the name of explorer Henry Hudson’s ship—the one that sailed to Manhattan in 1609 and changed the course of history was… wait for it… the Half Moon. Another connection? You bet.
Heraclitus also said that “everything flows.” In my case, things seem to flow to and from Manhattan. From that first arrival in 1953 with the hazy background of tall buildings in yellowing album photos, to coming back 30 years later and swimming along the same shore. And now—after another long break but punctuated with numerous visits to the famous island, to writing a story about the city’s birth in the early 17th century (more to come about that!).
Even though I’ve never lived in NYC or on Manhattan, I feel like I’m finally coming back home. My connection to Manhattan is almost complete. I doubt I’ll ever swim around it again, but I feel like I keep stepping into its stream. A stream that’s always changing. With an ever-changing me swimming in its flow.