Swimming in the Deep End

When I was a child, I guess in the lower grades of elementary school and before I learned to swim, I would go to the city pools with my friends and splash around in the shallow end.  I suppose I’ve always loved water, and being in it, and not being a full fledged swimmer didn’t keep me from having my good times where I could at least touch bottom.  But one day I had occasion to be standing alongside the deep end – I don’t know what I was doing – and all I remember about “The Incident” is that I saw a flash of red – a boy in red swim trunks – and next thing I knew I was pushed into the deep water.  I don’t remember being particularly panicked, but I do still remember what happened next.  My eyes were open, I was flailing about, and I was sinking steadily.  Why I wasn’t wildly horrified and in total fear I’ll never know, but it seemed as if I were watching someone else in the process of drowning.  All this continued until at some point the lifeguard saw me, going down and further down, and then I was pulled from the water.  I suffered no ill effects, spent some time at the side of the pool while I “recovered,” and then later I was back in the shallow end with my friends, splashing around as if nothing had ever happened.  No lingering fear of water, no trauma, just life going on as I knew it before that rotten little boy in red trunks made his move.  (Wonder what he thought about the whole thing after the excitement?)  It was still one of those moments that stays with you throughout your life.  I truly was in the midst of an experience that could have cost me my life, but thanks to the fates and a capable lifeguard, I lived on.  And now I swim in the deep deep waters of the lake, becoming one with that water, with no life jacket and no fear, but still with a healthy respect for what lies beneath me.

And now I use that little snippet of my life experience as an allegory for what is happening now.  Earlier this week I was again pushed into the deep end, feeling again like I could sink like a flailing stone, but no one to save me but myself.  Particular events lined up like the planets in some cosmic dance to put me back in touch with parts of the family I lost when I distanced myself from that star to which I hitched my wagon that I talked about recently.  It was something I had to do, even having vowed that there would be no more contact with any of them, despite the fact that I know they love me, and they, too, would have wished for a different outcome if there could have been any way under the skies of the universe that there could be one.  There would be no other outcome, and there it is.  But now I had to open the wound again, to take care of some business.

It upended me.  It ripped the still tender scab from my heart.  The tears flowed, but I was still loved, and given a gift from them that was horrible and wonderful at the same time.  I felt myself to be sinking again, in the waters of sadness and brokenness and pain, and no lifeguard in sight.  And so I had to save myself, and swim, whether I thought I could, or not.  And I’m still here.  Wet and stringy haired and red-eyed, but I’m here.  And so are you.  We’re all still here, and it is a testament to our will to live and go on that we stand, still, maybe bent and maybe with scars and seaweed clinging to our feet, but we are not sunk, nor dead.

And so we learn our lessons of survival.  We learn now to swim so that when the little devils in red swim trunks push us unprepared into the deep ends of our lives, we are capable of saving ourselves.  We must be our own lifeguards.

I thought of other scenarios that might apply.  I imagined a shoreline, walking along beautiful beaches looking for sand dollars and other treasures of the deep places, washed upon a foreign place that indeed signified their own deaths and transitions.  And to be so caught up in the beauty and the mystery as to be unaware of the rogue wave that was coming up, and then to be swept away into the undertow.  I’ve never experienced such a thing, but I’ve heard of it.  And I have learned that to survive in an undertow, you must go against your survival instinct to try to swim directly to shore, but give in to the new direction, and swim parallel to the shoreline until the undertow has lost its power, and only then can you make your way to a new shoreline a ways down from where you were plucked.  A new vista, a new chance, and a reclaimed you.

Whether we manage to save ourselves from the deep end, or have to go against all that we thought we knew and find a new way to survive an undertow, we learn to take care of our own selves, be our own lifeguards and counsel.  I got myself saved once when I didn’t know better, and for that I am grateful.  And I am grateful for those who still love me, even though it hurts so much, and the blood still flows from the wound.  But I am grateful, too, that I have learned to swim, and now I am prepared to kick that bad boy in red trunks in the butt if he should decide to try such a thing again.  And I have the knowledge to outwit the undertow if I’m not wary enough to see it coming.  And I don’t fear the water, even though it almost claimed me once.

Now I have to feel the same about Love.  Even as I go to get more bandaids and dressings for the wound to my heart, which I found out wasn’t nearly healed.  If I can learn to swim and still love the water even after nearly drowning, surely I can heal this heart.  And still, I don’t want to hate that little boy in the red swim trunks – I just hope he learned better.  I hope we both did.

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