I love the water and for the most part it loves me*
Water brings back memories of the best kind – being in the sea on a holiday abroad with my Grampa – he would float on his back and I would hold onto his feet and he would ‘chug, chug, chug’ me along. Learning to swim, arm bands on and a determination to join the adults in the delights of the deep end. Even when I had a verruca and had to wear one rubber sock, a minor inconvenience to my swim time – my tan line was epic.
The memory of water I don’t particularly enjoy was the forced swimming in school – mainly because I was very self conscious of my body, was not a strong swimmer and was singled out in front of the others. The jealousy I experienced when a schoolmate broke her arm was palpable, the vision of her smug face on the sidelines burned into my retinas.
In that same pool when swimming with friends I felt free, a realisation now that choice and context place are a huge factor in my enjoyment of swimming and water.
The lockers with keys on rubber bands you wore on your ankle or wrist, the changing room in which I was in awe of the women who walked around starkers while I hid myself away as much as possible, my naked flesh a curse on the world. The strong smell of chlorine that wouldn’t dissipate even when you washed your hair with shampoo from The Body Shop. The cafe afterwards for grease laden chips, drenched in salt and vinegar and a panda pop were the best of times.
Being in the water is such a mindful, visceral experience, listening to the birds, the indistinct chatter of beach goers, the accidental brush of a fellow swimmer, the sound of the water itself – the roars, gurgles and bubbles that I find so soothing.
Whenever I see water I try and get in, many times I have waded into its depths in my knickers, dress, whatever I have on. Without doing this I would have missed out on the opportunity to swim at the basin of a waterfall in Bosnia, a river in Thailand or off an island in Japan.
I fear water, we all should, it is powerful and mighty, when I am in the sea I feel inconsequential, a speck on the planet and it could swallow me whole if it wanted without much fuss. It forces me to be present, a reminder that there are bigger things than you or I, our worries could be carried away on a tide if only we let them.
My current obsession is watching Bondi Rescue videos, life clings precariously in the balance as people ignore the warnings and get swept up in riptides, swimming too far or too deep from safety. I admire the lifeguards so much, battling the elements to save and preserve life, they understand and recognise the power of water of what it can give and take away.
I had a moment in the river recently where I felt truly alive, my limbs were suspended by the water, my skin tingled and the rush of gratitude I felt towards my humanity was beautiful. It dawned on me, I was happy to be alive. When recalling this moment to my counsellor I cried because at times in my life I really have felt the opposite.
I am not a religious person but I believe that water is a spiritual element, whenever we enter it, whether that be a bath, pool, sea or river that we are part of a ritual or baptism. In that moment we are renewed, a washing away of physical and mental parts of ourselves. Water is non judgemental, takes us as we are – what a reassuring thought.
I need the water. I hope it needs me too.
*Apart from the time the sea beached my mother and I and I had sand in every crevice of my body, as the water rushed and gurgled over my head I was simultaneously terrified and exhilarated.