I’m always happy when I’m surrounded by water, I think I’m a Mermaid or I was a mermaid.
The ocean makes me feel really small and it makes me put my whole life into perspective… it humbles you and makes you feel almost like you’ve been baptized. I feel born again when I get out of the ocean. -Beyonce Knowles
The summer I turned twelve, the same summer my mom died, and the summer we moved south, I was saved by my backyard. Upon moving away from my childhood in the Pacific Northwest, the new parsonage in Southern California justified this heartbreaking loss by housing my dream, a swimming pool.
The first visit, I stepped into the wonderland of our new home, onto the avocado-green plush carpet with coordinating velvet wallpaper. My bedroom, on the main floor, spanned the space between a cotton candy pink bathroom and the dark wood-paneled family room. Beyond the family room’s sliding doors, emerald water glistened in the Southern California sunshine, algae lining the concrete walls, floating and burgeoning in the radiated, spring warmth. My body trembled, like a young puppy, with anticipation. This gift was too good to be true!
My parents, tired and exhausted from the move succumbed to our cries. Our pleading elicited a half-hearted response: Okay, you can swim. Go ahead. Just don’t swallow the water. My sister and I changed with lightening speed into our swimsuits, receiving with a dive and splash this inconceivable and generous gift.
I did not know at twelve, two weeks before my mom’s passing, how much that pool would serve me, the redemption I would find slipping my arms through the water, my feet fluttering behind my lengthening, adolescent form. My rule-follower breaths were inhaled every third stroke…1…2….3 – breathe…1…2…3-breathe. The pool seemed enormous to me with a diving board that provided endless entertainment as we perfected flips and jumps, holding contests and reenactments of strutting runways and walking planks.
The pool was my salvation. While I could only complete twelve strokes before the turn, the tumultuous days demanded I swim. The water, my grace, arms slicing rhythmically, my addled mind and awkward body achieved resurrection by the stroke, pain and grief and angst baptized with each breath, released toward hope.
The gift of water’s embrace continues to hold me well into these middle aged years. The blessing of being buoyed, is the embrace of God, Her arms slipping around me, enveloping my body, my being. The blessing of redemption poured upon me like wine, communion.
These troubled days I long for the simple reward of my backyard pool, for the chlorine fumes, the shock of cold and propelling with strokes and kicks. Yet, I find hope in the leisured walks in the park, observing the dying leaves’ metamorphosis. I find hope in the gym, my body regaining perspective through the addition of weight, strained muscles and drips of sweat across the floor. I find hope in a hike along the foothills of this breathtaking place. I find hope in creation, the making of meatballs and chocolate cake, alongside a can of beer or glass of wine, the noises of my home meandering through the halls. I find hope in writing and prayer, meditation and cringe-laughing at Saturday Night Live. I find hope in falling asleep to Eric’s conversation or a shared movie. I find hope in reading Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver. I find hope in attending a life-giving, surrendered church. I find hope in clean laundry and fresh eggs, in sweeping the floor and making beds. I find hope in yoga and Pilates. I find hope in long walks with a friend, Mumford and Sons, or a podcast.
These days require our feeding. These days require counselors and listening ears and like-minded friends, finding beauty in gratitude and generous love for ourselves. These days require fasts from news and social media to rest our weary minds, discovering renewal through restored perspective. These days require I find ways to love and show kindness, while I find ways to accept love and receive kindness. These days require we seek justice and mercy, while receiving the efforts of justice and mercy made on our behalf.
Our differences can divide, and they will continue to draw the harsh lines of separation if we fail to care for ourselves, if we fail to find rest, if we fail to discover and practice what brings us hope. This election does not thrill me, I am baffled and my heart is worn through by hate’s slippery justification toward my fellow humans. I pray we find our hope. I pray we remember the beauty and the care we’ve been ushered, the love we get to give.
May we find our hope in pools, at rowdy gatherings, around tables, or in silent contemplation. Let us be embraced and upheld by generosity and abundance, buoyed by God’s gentle touch. May we smile at strangers and feed friends. May we hug long and fierce. May we let grace enfold our needy forms and may mercy reign with ferocity, remembering we are part of this breathtaking human tapestry. Our beauty is in our resilience.