I envy those that swim the deep water.
I blame my brother. I mean there’s got to be someone to blame, right? But he really should have known better. God he was a cocky one. He must have been about thirteen, which would put me somewhere near six-years old. He swore he could get me to the island. Who was I to say different? He was my big brother. He could do anything. So I trusted.
I smile at that 50-year old memory as I sit in the sand, beer in hand. Fat, comfortable and strangely afraid for those out beyond the surf. How can they do that? Don’t they know the danger? But there they are, swimming slow, carefree, breathing on pace – cutting through the water.
But I know better. Earlier, I had gathered my courage and floundered out into the surf. Boogie board held tight to my chest. I thought it’d be better once I got beyond the break – but I could feel the pull. How it yearned to take me away. Strong and insistent. I wanted to panic, but how stupid would that be? There were 10-year old kids further out than me. I couldn’t help it though. My heart raced, and I flailed as nonchalantly as possible toward the shore. Never relaxing until my feet touched bottom.
And now, my retreat complete, I watch with awe those brave but foolish souls swimming in the distance. Watching them, I’m reminded again of my brother. How he began to tire and go under. How he bravely tried to hold me above the surface. How he’d lunge and push me up, begging for help with each crest. I remember the panic in my little mind, as I’d bob and gasp and scream before going under. Back down – into the deep.
I remember the miracle of the boat. I remember strong hands pulling us up and dumping us on the aluminum deck. I remember my brother’s excuses and the false bravado. I remember the strange look of panic and relief in my mom’s eyes. It was my first memory of gratitude for life. And it was my first memory of the fear of the deep.
And now I sit here, feet in the sand, and realize my fear goes far beyond the water. Does the deep have a deeper meaning? And if so, what excuse do I have for remaining in the shallows? Could it be that I’m the only one to blame?
Is it too late? Am I too old? Will I ever conquer the deep? Or is it enough to expend all my effort, flailing wildly, gasping for breath – never leaving sight of the shore? Is comfort and contentment enough? Must my feet always touch bottom? Is there something exhilarating out beyond the surf’s break?
I awaken to an ant crawling across my foot, and then out toward the waves. Brave and busy. Unconcerned with the potential disaster. I toss my empty Corona in the ice chest, and turn my gaze back to the swimmers. Is it possible that liberation can be found in the deep water?
Suddenly, a sneaker wave sweeps over my feet. As I jump up to gather my belongings, I stop abruptly – wondering what just became of that brave and busy little ant. And for some reason, a small portion of one of my favorite quotations comes to mind…
“So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Maybe it’s time I learn to swim.