Saturday, August 31, 2013
Worship in the water
We start off in the morning with clouds hovering overhead and wind kicking up the waters along the shore, me in the water and two friends escorting on paddle boards. We point ourselves to Mercer Island, one mile and a half away, following the floating bridge, the one I passed over twice a day last year in a car on my way to and from work. The sun soon overpowers and clouds melt to the sidelines of sky, leaving us in a sandwich of blue.
I seek to find a rhythm that will carry me the whole distance without stopping.
My arms slice through the water that stretches before me like a big bowl of glass and lake folds around me smooth as jello. For an hour and a half, I breathe and stroke, stealing glances at the sky, the distant shore and my two companions. No longer am I thirty-two, but all the ages I've been since my first faded memory of being in the water.
I'm somewhere around four years old, frogging my way underwater with eyes wide open, from one end of our pool to the other. Born in Phoenix, I can't remember a time when I couldn't swim. The sun scorches and browns my skin and my bare feet nearly singe on pavement, then walking tenderly through pokey dead grass. The best place to be, I learn early, is in the water.
I'm eight or nine years old, trekking once or twice a day to the public pool, down the street from our home in Richland. I've reached the highest level of swim classes, just below life-guarding, but I'm more interested in how far I can swim with one breath than I am in sitting high up in a chair with a life preserver. Mom times me on her watch while my fingers grasp the side of the pool and plunge my head below water with a deep breath for as long as I can before I emerge with lungs screaming. In the deep end, I dive down the twelve feet to touch the bottom, my ears beginning to fill with pressure. In the shallow end, I push off the bottom and dive head first through the air as I've seen the Little Mermaid do many times. Some days I'm a seal; others a dolphin. I go the whole summer with perpetually blood shot eyes, still preferring my naked eyes to goggles.
We're at the Oregon Coast and I'm eleven and fifteen and twenty, running high knees into the salty waters, up to my waist and then diving headlong into a crashing wave. It's June and August and November - season barely matters - and I can't stay away from the water. The ocean calls to me, a friend I can't wrap my arms around or see its beginning or end, but here it is, right where I always left it. I swim along the shoreline and fight the water's powerful pull inward, to the heart of the sea, and I stay in until my body shakes and I can no longer feel my limbs.
I'm sixteen, in our high school's pool for water polo tryouts, and my stomach is a ball of nerves. I've been swimming for so long, but never here, and I soon learn what it feels like to sweat in the water. We swim length after length, climbing out to do push ups in between sets, and my heart is pounding hard, my arms shaky. We tread water and I try to learn the water polo kick - the mixer - and we hold bricks above our heads. I endure for a week, coming home exhausted and on the verge of tears each night. This is a side of swimming I have never done and it feels harsh, the joy of being in the water funneling down the drain with each day that passes, until I make my decision. I don't want to lose my love of the water, so I don't come back to tryouts, and I take up running instead.
I'm thirty-one and I'm passing the summer on crutches. For months, I watch with longing as runners, walkers and bikers enjoy the outdoors, and I sit on the beach near our home staring out at the lake and all the swimmers. As soon as the doctor says I'm cleared to be in the water, I swim with just my arms back and forth in the roped off portion of lake, and it's like finally eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich after hours of hiking with a growling stomach and thinking food has never tasted so good. I swim the end of July through mid September, gradually able to kick my legs and increase my distance. The lake welcomes me each time with open arms and I plunge in happy and free and bathed in wonder.
I hear my friends say we're on the home stretch now and follow through the final choppy underpass, to where my husband waits with a huge smile beneath the bridge. I'm in no hurry to leave the water and squint back at Seattle, like looking back on my life, and wonder how I've made it from there to here. My husband shakes his head and tells me I'm crazy, hands me my faded purple towel and I wrap myself in the same Little Mermaid that has dried me since I was ten. She smiles at me, her cotton face silently celebrating my victory, as she has all these twenty-two years.
We wave to our friends as they turn their paddle boards back, walking hand in hand on the bridge, back across the water I just crossed, the wind whipping my crazy hair in pieces. My heart is full as the land that holds this lake.
This crossing is my morning worship.
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Joining with Lisa-Jo to the prompt of "Worship."