"How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean."
~ Arthur C. Clarke
How often do we find ourselves splashing around in shallow waters, like children playing a game, when we are fully capable of exploring the hidden depths of the sea? The shallows have their place of course, yet I yearn to know the depths.
I have toyed with this notion of learning to swim all of my life. I used to be so afraid of the water, I avoided walking by the deep end of a pool.
I just happened to go to one of the only high schools in my city with a pool, a kind of curse for people like me. In earlier days, they used to force every gym student to learn how to swim (an unpleasant memory of one of my sisters). By the time I got to the school, you could take Dance class instead, so I managed to dance my way out of the requirement (though not the most coordinated, I actually enjoyed that quite a bit).
Most terrors are born in childhood when our trust is torn away. I remember floating in a Colorado lake, right at the edge of the mountains at the age of 6 (Soda Lake it was called - I was told anyone could float in Soda Lake, and I believed them). Not from a swimming family, a neighbor took us out one day. It was absolutely wonderful, I recall, not frightening at all, floating looking up at crystal Colorado skies above.
Another day that summer, we went to a pool instead. Soon I was floating again. Then taken by surprise, someone splashed me with water and pushed me under (perhaps it was an accident, I feared it was a bully). I can't really remember all that happened next, but I know it was scary. No, I didn't drown (obviously!), though I thought I might. I don't think the water was actually that deep. But for whatever reason (and I always did have breathing issues), that was it. One violation of trust and that was all it took. I still occasionally splashed in shallow pools, but I didn't dare to float, not for many years.
In high school, ironic as it seems, I was a swim team assistant, though I escaped the pool in Gym. Friends were on the team, including at least one I quietly admired a bit more over time. I silently sat in an office above, behind the glass with scores in hand, typing away, rarely daring to even venture near the depths.
Then a day came in my 20's when I forced myself to swim. My teacher was very, very clever, gently coaxing me into the water. It took literally weeks to learn to float. Nearing retirement, she had taught many frightened children and I suspect quite a few frightened adults. First she held me in the water completely like a child, then as she slowly moved towards letting go, gradually handing me smaller and smaller inflatable objects, one day I found myself clinging to a single empty milk container floating in the water. And realizing just how silly that was, I let it go. Floating was easy! And eventually I started to learn to swim...mostly... I was beginning to get the idea in the shallows, until I had to breathe - so still I feared the depths, as mastering my breathing eluded me.
Then the car wreck happened, the little truck utterly totaled on an isolated mountain road. There were no cell phones, but people arrived to help. I wasn't driving and it wasn't our fault, and we were mostly ok (a woman in the other car almost died, and that was where everyone's attention was). I thought I was mostly ok anyway. Or so it seemed. Just to realize a day or so later I really wasn't ok, and I was in a neck brace, sling, muscle relaxants at night for way too long and physical therapy for a year. The insurance company brought that to a rather abrupt halt (a story in itself). The pains in my neck and shoulder and tingling in my hand eventually went away. Many things heal in time. But I used it all as a convenient excuse to stop the swimming, the depths out of reach once again.
Around the time of my divorce, not long after my spiritual awakening, I decided to confront the depths again. The only pool nearby was a scuba pool (surprisingly in Kansas), as deep as pools can go, pictures of lavish adventures at sea on the walls as you approached it. My son was taking lessons there. One day I decided to take lessons too. It was a time of bold adventure, a time of facing fears. This teacher was more demanding, not quite so gentle and patient as the first. But I listened. I finally learned to swim, mostly (even better than before). Unfortunately, I never quite mastered my fear of the depths before we moved, though he made me swim over that gaping hole of darkness several times. I did it as fast as I could, the breathing still elusive. I could swim in other ways of course and breathe all I liked, but I didn't like swimming over the deep in the blind, always silently fearing something would pull me under, as it had long ago. Even so, I did learn the joys of peacefully floating in the shallows.
One day, my teacher tried to get me to dive under the water from the surface (not from the edge, he knew I wasn't ready for that). I literally couldn't do it, I was so buoyant (ironic to discover). I think it might have made it easier to dive, to actually go there, to see it, to explore it, then it wouldn't be so dark. But I couldn't. Not in that pool.
Another day very near the end of my time in that locale, a substitute teacher assumed I knew how to tread water. I didn't. She coaxed me to attempt it anyway. And I was amazed that I could! It was easy. It was much like dancing. I defied the depths that day, laughing, dancing over the dark I feared - it was like a miracle. The depths would never be the quite the same again.
Soon my days in Kansas ended, and though I took just a few more swimming lessons by the ocean far away, the depths await me still. I am a master of behind the glass...a window is open, the ocean breeze freeing me to breathe. So I sit here typing while I look out to the waters...the depths call me to the Dance. It's up to me to listen...