Monday, August 18, 2008
Lostness And Finding Along The Shore
I’m no Olympic swimmer, I don't have the talent or the skills and I get bored swimming pool laps. But in the ocean or bay, I can more than hold my own. I am at home in those living bodies of water, and feel graceful there.
This weekend I spent a lot of time at the beach. The weather was perfect, not to hot, not to cold, and the water was the warmest it’s been all season. The waves were breaking due to the hurricane off the Florida coast.
I believe we are ¾’s salt water for a reason. We are part of the ocean. Not only chemically, but our movements mimic the rhythm of the waves at certain times and moments of, and in, our lives. To quote a lyric whose singer’s name & song title escapes me, "I am the ocean.”
I grew up, 3 blocks from the beach and could swim in the ocean from the time I was knee high. I vividly remember my brother (who was a lifeguard) taking me out in the surfboat (lifeguard boat) and diving in. He tread water and convinced me to dive in while his partner was at the oars. I did – and remember doggie paddling towards him. He kept encouraging me that I could do it. I didn’t care that I was out over my head - I didn’t care that I was out over his head either. Every day we went out early in the morning or after 5pm, and every day I swam further.
I learned how to float on my back, how to do the backstroke, and freestyle.
Soon, I didn’t need (or want) anyone’s help. As a child, I’d swim in the ocean for hours, until my teeth were chattering and my lips turned blue from the cold. I’d swim out way over my head and then turn around and swim towards shore.
I’d body surf the waves with my father, trying always to make him proud. The ocean was the one place where my father connected to everyone of his children.
My father loved the Atlantic Ocean. He was born in Atlantic City and used to dive off the fishing piers & the Trenton Ave bay bulkhead. He’d been in over 30 countries in WWII, but was a “Jersey Beach Boy” through and through. He never wanted to leave South Jersey when he returned after the war. As kids, he’d always tell us, “See this beach right here? This is the BEST beach in the world! I’ve been in over 30 countries, and it doesn’t get better than this!”
When he died, I went to the beach the night before his funeral and the sky was this amazing swirl of gray and yellow – like a Mother of Pearl shell. I filled a tiny glass Skippy jar with sand and screwed the lid on tight. On the morning of his viewing, I open the lid of the jar, sprinkled a hand full of sand under his shoes, and placed the jar in the foot of his coffin.
I wanted to make sure that he'd always have sand at his feet and under them.
I like to the think that heaven is all things to all people. For me, heaven is an ocean in the sky. The waves are always good, the riptides are never strong, the spindrifts are always bubbling, and everyone I love who has ever died is either on the shoreline or in the water, happy and in excellent health - having a blast.
The ocean makes me feel peaceful and at home. I respect the water; I know how dangerous and powerful it is. My cousin Mark was a teacher, and he ( and 11 others) drowned in a canoeing accident while trying to save one of his students on Lake Timiskaming in 1978 - It was a national tragedy in Canada.
Not only was that the year I was diagnosed, that was the year I learned that water could take the life of some one I loved, no matter how nice or strong they were.
Still.., I loved being in the water. When I was fearless child, I got caught in a riptide, and had absolutely no ideal that I was in trouble. One of the lifeguards (who was a friend of both my brothers) swam out and offered to race me to shore, as long as I followed his path. Side by side, swimming parallel to the shore until the action of the waves pushed us back towards beach. I never knew that I was in any sort of danger. 25 years later I ran into him at Malooney's Bar and he told me the story. “Kel, you were a fish – you had no ideal, and you weren’t scared. I didn’t save you, I just guided you.”
Sunday-early evening, after my friends left the beach, I sat there and stared at the ocean for a good half hour with a lump in my throat. I stood up; took off my insulin pump, placed it in the cooler, put the cooler in my knapsack, and walked towards the waves. I felt so free, I felt at home…and I felt sad.
I knew I couldn’t stay in for long. I’d already disconnected my pump several times that day. Earlier that afternoon, I'd gone swimming for almost an hour. Before that, I’d taken my friends daughter for a swim and we played in the waves for a good 20 minutes. I was pushing my luck and I knew it.
Still, I continue to plunge myself full force in the waves, Diving under them, arching up towards the surface, or catching them just as they were ready to crest towards shore, surfing them with my body. It was time to go and I had to get out, I didn't want to go. I took my last dive under a huge white cap, and waited as long as I could before I surfaced.
As walked out of the water, I had tears in my eyes. It was as if whatever sadness I'd ever felt regarding diabetes had walked in the water with me, and I couldn't wash it off. It was if the sadness still shadowed me as I walked towards the dry sand.
The place that I felt most free was also the place where my freedom was most limited.
Scott called it, “that feeling of lostness.” I not only felt lost, but I also felt a tremendous sense of loss, in a place where I normally went to find myself.
Why was I feeling this way? Was it reading Birdie's thoughts on her "not so new normal?"Hearing about Bernard's friend? Was it hormonal? Was the churning of the waves making my thoughts churn as well. Was I just fucking nuts?
Most likely it was a combo of all the above.
It happened, I recognized it, and eventually, I moved on from it...I even managed to trip going up the boardwalk steps, which caused me to loose my balance just a tad, drop all my stuff to grab on to the railing, and cause a 5-person pile up on the steps.
“HOW GRACEFUL AM I?!...I totally meant to do that...really, I did.” I said to the people behind me, and we laughed.
So yes, I had even been able to find the funny… ;0