Entering the harbor’s waters where our small town beach affords easy access to swimming, a spiritual sensation overcomes me. Immediately I feel released from the hold of time and place and am transported where worry and health issues do not weigh me down. I don’t have to experience space flight to experience antigravity.
Since I was a little kid, I’ve always enjoyed swimming and its associated weightless sensation. But things were different for my parents. They never learned how to swim. They were firmly rooted to the dry ground by gravity. That is amazing to me, given that they both spent their entire nine decades on earth within easy walking distance of a saltwater beach.
I don’t recall my mother ever explaining why she didn’t learn to swim. Maybe it was her birth order, fourth child, second girl surrounded by boisterous boys hellbent on proving their superior swimming talents to one another, leaving her alone on the beach. The age difference between her and her older sister, number one in birth order, probably inhibited their play, leaving my mother to her own devices. Or perhaps it was because her recreational years were short, over by the age of 12. By then she was taking care of her stroke-stricken father. She just wasn’t given the chance.
Dad worked almost as soon as he could dress himself. His father was a shore fisherman, rowing his boat out to lobster traps or angling for sea bass coming into shore chasing herring as they rushed to upstream breeding areas. He simply did not have recreational downtime either. If he swam, it would have been by accident after being tipped out of his father’s boat. He never said. When asked if he could swim, he’d respond, “Of course.” But that was never demonstrated. End of conversation.
We, my parents’ children, were never taken to the beach to play or learn how to swim. We were, however, given ample time to learn on our own or take the swimming lessons offered at our local beach. I took full advantage of the swimming lessons. I was determined to learn how.
Similar my other athletic attempts like running or cycling, I was merely adequate. I learned how to swim well enough not to drown. If I got tired trying to master a breaststroke, I’d stretch out on my back and float. From this position I could observe the summer sky. Being able to float also provides a bit of safety; by learning how to float, I surmised, I’d never drown.
Today I am a champion bobber. I can bob around in the water for a long time, but I can’t perform any regulation stroking of any kind. Correction: I can do the doggie paddle and frog crawl. These limitations do not hinder my love of being in the saltwater.
You might wonder how I passed the swimming tests to advance from one class to the next. In my youth, my body was far more responsive to commands. Today, well, I can still float if need be.
I don’t have a swimming partner or pal to accompany me on my high tide glides at town beach. But, frankly, being solo gives me the space to just let my thoughts ebb and flow. I can resolve old conflicts, dream up a recipe, or unpack my thoughts for a story.
As I enter the water, my spirit is lifted, and the weight of living becomes a flight high above Earth’s gravitational pull. Antigravity is blessed relief.
Frog crawling my way to deeper waters, voices on the beach become a low murmur, almost chant-like, occasionally augmented by children’s playful squealing as if a finger cymbal has been struck.
I think about the people on the beach and I send them a mental postcard that reads, “Having a great time. So glad you are here to enjoy it with me.”
Looking out toward the horizon, the view of boats tethered to their moorings is a real life watercolor. All the blended tones of ivory, cream, blue, black, brown, and green play against one another for my personal enjoyment. I never tire of the singular theme; for each time, each moment, it changes just enough to be new again, thanks to sunlight playing off the water. Wasn’t it Monet who painted the same scene repeatedly in different lighting? These are my harborside masterpieces.
From my watery perch, I can return to those days when I was learning to swim. The complete sense of accomplishment is felt again. I can still paddle myself back to reality, but I don’t rush. This water therapy allows me to be master of myself in my totality – body and soul – if only for a while.
My thoughts achieve antigravity status while I’m in the water. I’m at peace. Dangling in the water, one with the universe, I invite my parents to return from their resting places to join me for a brief dip in “what could have been,” but without the regret. No regrets now, not here, just acceptance.
This Mattapoisett Life
By Marilou Newell