I never had a proper swimming lesson. Heralding from a family of nine, my mother did what she could to get my younger brothers and me to the nearby community pool in the blistering summer months, where two memories vie for prominence: the spitting trough that surrounded the pool’s interior and the overwhelming lung ache produced by Southern California smog, coupled with too many chlorine fumes both wafting from the pool as well as streaming from locker room showers. They must have used barrels of the stuff on a daily basis. Still in all, I yearned to immerse myself in water, and that was a place I could experience the ecstasy only buoyancy could elicit. It was here that I experimented with the dog paddle and the back float rather unsuccessfully. The most natural posture my body assumed was on my side, stroking along with my nose clearing the water’s surface. I could both swim and breathe this way which sufficed to soothe any misapprehension in the learning process.
I did not master the crawl or the backstroke until high school when I joined a swim team. It simply didn’t look right as a pseudo-jock to sidestroke my way across the pool like a panicked crab. And so I faked it to make the team, though it was my legs that saved me. They have always been strong and trusting in the depths. And though I did participate in competitive water polo and later learned about the buddy system, my lifelong love of swimming ultimately derived from the joy of being alone, surrounded by the nurturing and supportive element of either fresh or salty water.
Certainly in some kinesthetic way we all remember our uterine origins – induction to life here on earth. There is ever something undeniably primal in surrendering to an amniotic-like matrix. Where fear sneaks in for those I’ve spoken with who tend to shy away from deep water is the dearth of knowing what lies beneath. After all, save for twins or other simultaneous siblings, most of us cruised that womb alone. Meanwhile if so very many people did not fear the plunge, it would indeed be crowded out there in Mother Ocean, but it has never been – despite the fact that Hawaii remains one of the world’s premier tourist destinations.
My husband and I recently enjoyed the documentary I AM, conceived by Tom Shadyac, famed director of such films as The Nutty Professor and Ace Ventura. In this film, researchers postulate that we’ve got it all wrong as pertains to the nature of human beings when it comes to actual versus perceived threats. It is in the findings of these scholars and scientists that we discover an inherent cooperation and goodness in all life forms, along with a definitive interrelatedness. Even National Geographic continues financing untold numbers of films depicting the awe-filled savagery of Creation. In truth during the majority of the time however, creatures foster and support community rather than actively engaging adversity. But boring isn’t good box office, nor does the mundane elicit the same kind of funding that contention and discord likely do. Nobody’s fault. But it’s worth a mention and a viewing to discover some of what prompts us to fear so much about this multifaceted miracle of our temporal existence. If we understood to our core that fundamental interconnection, would we relax into trusting more than skittering about in apprehension? Would it make a difference in our experiences?
For me it is less boldness than an acute sensitivity to large bodies of water, coupled with a faith in destiny – that propels me out and into the depths. Maine offered the sparkling glacial jewel that is Goose Pond. In the Hawaiian ocean it is a kinship with the spirits of the deep that has never guided me falsely. If I always pay attention to my gut feeling before entering the water, I remain confident in trusting those impulses. Sometimes that means I sit in the sand and go home to return another day. Most times however, I head on out into the bay.
In the end, if I’m meant to die being torn asunder by sharks – if that is indeed my destiny – there isn’t much I can do to prevent it, even if I never set foot in the ocean again. I might be flying overhead as the plane crashes with the same result. All I’m saying is that somehow I don’t allow fear to overrule the pursuit of happiness in this life. And filling that cup to overflowing always involves joining with nature in all her wild manifestations. I’ll tell you, all the lights on Broadway don’t amount to an acre of green …