Beach on a lovely summer day

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.


  1. Love, love, love this post, KeAnne. I learned to swim in the ocean; my fear is stepping on sea urchins.

    I have so much flying through my mind after reading this I think I’ll have to write my own post. 🙂

  2. I also have a ton of thoughts after reading this. Great post.

    Literal: I grew up in Florida in a beach town so I love ocean swimming. My only fear now is NC waves and the boys. I don’t let the kids get far away from me, ever.

    Not literal: I’ve had many ocean years, way too many to count, in my lifetime. I’ve also had some pool years, and I learn a great deal from both.

    My super great friend Maria recently told me… okay fine she told me this on Monday as my BBF’s son’s story took a terrible turn…you have to find room in the grief and difficulty to breathe. Even if you can breathe for a minute, it’s still room to breathe.

    I’ve thought a lot about that, dealing with difficult things this week. I need to find ways to breathe.

    1. What a beautiful comment, Laura! Yes, breathing. Must remember to breathe. I’m so sorry about your friend’s little boy too 😦 You can teach me to swim in the ocean anytime.

  3. This might be one of my favorite posts of yours.

    I love the ocean. Walking near it. With my feet in it. Watching its spray, it’s power. I don’t swim in it, either. I hate the sand in every crevice of my bathing suit (which you simply can’t avoid when you’re wading through the waves), or the uncertainty of slippery fish touching me on the leg. Even the lake, where the ripples are more predictable, there’s too much under the surface. Maybe that’s what I don’t like, too … the things I can’t see, because the ocean is just too deep.

    I never really learned to swim at all. But my father used to love floating on his back, with his sunglasses on, letting the current just take him out as far as he dared to go. Maybe there’s a lesson in that, too. Rather than swimming against the tide, to float above it?


  4. What a gorgeous metaphor. I LOVE the ocean and adore swimming in it, even though I’m scared of the creatures, both that can sting me and that can’t. And I REALLY hate the kelp and seaweed. That stuff scares me silly and it’s not even alive (well you know what I mean).

    As far as life being an ocean, I think you hit the nail right on the head. Recently MV and I had a fight and I thought, well this is just a hard time, but then I realized, everything is a hard time, the hard times don’t stop. There is always something rocking our boat and you’re right, we have to learn how to sway with the movement because if we fight against it we’ll be exhausted all the time.

    I hope their are calm seas in your future, but that you never veer into the doldrums. 😉

  5. I love the metaphor. You are absolutely right; life is unpredictable and we need to learn how to navigate. Regardless of our comfort level, what’s coming is coming and we better be ready for it. Sink or swim.

  6. Oh I love this KeAnne. You have created the most perfect metaphor for the truth I am just beginning to realize—life is hard. Always hard. The challenges are not the anomalies, the easy stretches are. Just realizing that makes it a little easier to bear with grace (vs. my past “woe is me, why does MY life have to be so hard, when will it get easier?!!”) In a literal sense, I LOVE the ocean, the power, the vastness, the unknown. I’ve been stung by a jellyfish and jumped right back in. (but the kelp & seaweed does squick me out…we don’t have that on the east coast—I was disgusted the first time I went to a west coast beach!) But I’m not a strong swimmer so I’d be really afraid to swim out deep.

  7. Beautiful post, Keanne. I totally relate to the swimming pool vs. the ocean point. You are a strong swimmer and I know you’ll be able to swim in rough seas.

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