Like many people, I learned to swim in a pool. An artificial rectangle of water in which the only waves made were due to the wind or the exertions of the swimmers displacing water with each stroke. I even joined the local swim team for a few years. I was no Michael Phelps, but I could competently perform all 4 strokes. Breast stroke was my favorite, but I was better at Freestyle. At the end of my first season, I was voted Most Improved (don’t be too impressed – I was 6!).
I love the ocean, but I can’t swim in it. It’s mainly due to fear. I fear the possibility of stinging jellyfish. I fear the undertow. I fear being swept out to sea and not having the strength or ability to propel myself back to shore, knowing that eventually my arms will give out, and I will sink. I fear tidal waves. I fear sharks, huge, monstrous great whites. As a contact lens wearer, I fear getting water in my eyes and not being able to see. I fear what I can’t see in the water. The ocean is too wild and unpredictable for me to be entirely comfortable with it.
I’ve blogged many times that the past few years have been rough ones for my family. Jimmy and I keep telling ourselves, “next year will be better.” The problem is that it never is. There is always something to keep our stress levels and worry high and life eventful in general. What we keep hoping for is a placid, calm year with only minor ripples like those in the swimming pool.
What I’ve realized this year is that life isn’t like a swimming pool; it’s like the ocean. Like the ocean, life can be murky and unclear. Giant waves like a job loss or family member’s illness or death that knock you down or gentle swells that tickle your feet and ankles, enticing you to play. Poisonous or dangerous animals that sting or nip at you when you’re trying to make your way through the water. The way the ocean floor can suddenly drop off, jolting you and leaving you flailing or finding yourself standing above it all, briefly, on a sandbar that’s never in the same place. The strength and energy it takes to fight the forces trying to suck you under or much farther out than you intended to go. There is beauty too of course. Beauty in the way the sun brings out the blue-green of the water. The wonder of witnessing a school of dolphins or a whale breaching. The healing effects the salt can have on your skin. Through it all, the ocean keeps going, indifferent to the bruises it causes and the beauty it creates. It’s up to us to make our way through it.
The problem is that I don’t know how to swim in the ocean. I’m used to the swimming pool in which there are few obstacles and clearly-marked lanes to guide your progress.
I guess I better learn.