In the water I am beautiful.
― Kurt Vonnegut
I grew up near Lake Michigan, although I really prefer to say that I grew up in Lake Michigan. According to family stories, I swam in the big lake before I walked, and getting me out of the water at the end of the day was a challenge that often involved screeching, kicking, splashing and a basic all-around kerfuffle on all fronts.
On land, I was clumsy and slow-moving. I tripped over my own feet and bumped into doorframes. My family used to marvel at the way I managed to fall upstairs or stumble off the edge of the stage into the orchestra pit; I would skid on freshly-waxed floors or walk into low-hanging tree branches, and to this day I still cannot walk safely into a room with throw rugs.
But all of that vanished as soon as I hit the water. I was in my element. I could glide beneath the surface, change directions, and stay under long enough to send my aunts into a panic. When I dove and kicked in the water, my body would move along so gracefully that I felt long and lean and beautiful. Strong. It was the only place where I could be fluid and lovely in my movements.
I feared nothing in the water. Oh, my aunts taught me early on to respect the Lake and all of its power, but not to fear it. It was almost as if I had lake water in my veins instead of blood.
But time passes. Little girls grow up and have to come out of the water eventually, changing and growing just as the lake changes with each passing season. There is less time to swim and play and be beautiful in water; more time to buckle down and find a job, face life’s challenges, accept a life on dry land.
In the winter, Lake Michigan doesn’t freeze over in a nice, smooth sheet like a pond or inland lake. It freezes in great jagged peaks and mounds that hide dangerous crevasses and air pockets. It is beautiful and sometimes deadly. A hiker out for an adventurous climb can sometimes disappear without a trace, without a cry.
It takes courage to tackle the lake in its frozen form. Courage that I lack. I’ve never walked the ice or braved the pier in winter. I’ve stayed safely on shore, no matter how ugly and clumsy that made me feel.
If we’re not careful, we can spend too many years standing on shore because it is just too scary to take a chance on the unknown. We can congratulate ourselves on our wisdom in avoiding those hidden hazards; pat ourselves on the back for being the smart ones who know better than to take a silly risk. We may miss out on some of the fun, we say smugly, but at least we will never disappear through a crevasse or air pocket without a trace, without a cry.
And then we wake up one morning and face the fog on the beach, only to realize that the ice is gone and we’ve missed our chances. Opportunities can evaporate like the mist that drowns out the sunlight, and the mournful wail of the foghorn sounds like a lament of “Too late! Too late!”
I want to swim again in summer, and feel beautiful once more. I want to take off my practical shoes and not worry about how I look in a bathing suit, and I want to plunge beneath the surface again. And in the winter, I want to bundle up and take a chance. For once in my life, I want to take a risk and climb on the ice with everyone else, before I disappear without a trace, without a cry.
I am ready for the ice in my veins to thaw into lake water.
In response to The Daily Post’s weekly writing challenge: “Ice, Water, Steam.”
<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_writing_challenge/ice-water-steam/”>Ice, Water, Steam</a>