Just Keep Floating

buoy

Every summer of my childhood, there was one day when Aunt Marian allowed — no, encouraged — my sisters and me to break the rules of the public swimming area by swimming out to touch one of the buoys that marked our boundaries.

Never going out into water over our heads was her rule. Never touching the buoys was an official rule, enforced by eagle-eyed, whistle-blowing lifeguards. In our teen years, we sort of liked it when we managed to draw the lifeguards’ attention because, you know, lifeguards.

Marian wanted to teach us to respect the water without fearing it. Her own older brothers drowned in a freak boating accident when she was only 19 years old, so she would have been totally justified in banning us from all water activities, despite the fact that we lived right on the shore of Lake Michigan. Instead, she spent endless hours preparing us for our annual buoy-slapping challenge.

“If you get tired, just float,” she told us. “Don’t panic or struggle. Just float, rest until you get your second wind.”

At first, I tried floating face-down, which sort of defeated the purpose of the lesson. By the time I figured it out, I had perfected the art of the Dead Man’s Float. I could hold my breath for ridiculous amounts of time, happily coasting along on the water’s surface long enough to totally freak my aunts out.

Eventually, though, I caught on. When the water got too deep or too scary, I learned to stretch out, face-up, and allow the water to support me until I was ready to try again. It was all about trust. Trust in the water, trust in my surroundings, but most of all trust in myself.

I had to learn to believe, without a doubt, that I would never sink.

I think about Marian a lot these days, and about swimming out to slap that buoy. I’d get tired and accidently swallow some water and start to panic or turn back toward shore, but I’d hear her voice above my frantic splashing: “Don’t give up, Amy! Float, rest until you’re ready to try again.”

Seems like I’ve been trying to slap a lot of buoys lately, with varied levels of success.  I’ve been pushing so many boundaries in so many areas that I have days when I hardly know which way is up.

I’m floundering in deep water. Trying to renovate this house that I simultaneously love and hate, trying to be a single parent to three grieving kids, trying to face my breathtaking fear of winter driving. At this moment, I am snowed in with my youngest son, facing our third snow day this week, and I have been scaring myself silly with all of the what-ifs.

What if the furnace goes out? What if the pipes freeze? What if we run out of food? What if he gets hurt and I can’t drive him to the hospital? What if–God forbid–what if we run out of toilet paper?

What if I can’t do this?

I suppose it doesn’t help that I was awake most of the night, worrying and stressing about everything. But a while ago, as I poured my fourth cup of coffee with shaking hands, I swear I heard Marian’s voice.

Float, rest until you’re ready to try again.

It’s entirely possible that I’m losing my mind and am now dealing with auditory hallucinations, or perhaps it’s time to switch to decaf. It’s also possible that Aunt Marian’s ghost is flitting about the old house just to screw with me, because that is totally the sort of messed-up thing she would do.

Or maybe, just maybe, I need to remember the lesson I learned so long ago whenever I was in over my head and scared to death.

Relax.

Trust.

Believe.

Breathe.

Float, rest until you’re ready to try again.

For all of us who are floundering and splashing through our lives, it’s time to stop and rest. Give ourselves permission to take a break. Regroup. Get that second wind. Every day doesn’t have to be a fight, folks.

Just float, rest until you’re ready to try again.

And when you’re ready, slap the hell out of that buoy.

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Seashells and Pinwheels

Describe your first memorable experience exploring and spending time in nature. Were you in awe? Or were you not impressed? Would you rather spend time in the forest or the city?

For me, “nature” doesn’t mean forest or city; it means water. 

My aunts bought The Seashell — as they named their beach house– when I was three years old, but family legend has it that they took my sisters and me to Lake Michigan on vacation even before that.  Aunt Marian used to tell stories about having to drag me, kicking and screaming, out of the water long after everyone else had tired of swimming.

The Lake was a big playground for us.  My aunts tried to teach us to respect it without fearing it, but I didn’t understand what they meant until the first time I went in the water when the Yellow Flag was up.

There were lifeguards on our beach back then, and they used a flag system to tell us how to treat the water every day.  Green Flag meant the water was calm and smooth and safe, Yellow Flag meant there was a certain degree of danger due to strong currents and high waves, and a Red Flag meant no swimming. Stay out.

I was probably about six or seven years old.  There were four aunts and three little girls, so we always had the full attention of at least one adult.  At all times.  In or out of the water.  We had reached the age where the aunts let us go in the water without them, as long as they were watching from the shore, and as long as the flag was green.  As the youngest, I still had to hold an adult’s hand in the water on Yellow Flag days.

On this particular Yellow Flag day, the aunts decided that I was ready to go in with  just my sisters. 

We were all just learning to bodysurf at that time, but hadn’t quite mastered the art of “reading” the water.  We would wait for the biggest wave, fling ourselves facedown into it with arms stretched out above our heads, and ride the current as far toward shore as possible.

We thought the biggest waves were the strongest.  Now I understand that a stong wave can be any size, but a wave that is muddy brown on top is a wave that is strong enough to gouge into the lake bottom and bring sand to the surface.  In other words, strong enough to knock you on your ass.

Which is exactly what happened.  Sort of.

The wave hit so hard that it drove my face into the bottom of the lake.  My legs went up and over like a crazy little-girl-pinwheel.  I came up for air and gulped down a faceful of the next wave as it crashed into me.  Then I went down again, scraping skin off my shoulder as I bounced along the lake bottom once more.

One of my sisters–I don’t remember which one–hauled me up by my hair and snapped, “Don’t cry or they’ll make us all get out!”

Cry?

I didn’t have time to cry.  I had to catch the next wave.  And the next. 

There is nothing in my life that has ever matched the feeling of being pounded and tossed about by Lake Michigan in her frenzy.  Helpless, disoriented, exhausted, waterlogged and almost afraid.  And starved.  I remember coming out of the water feeling like I could gnaw on some of my own extremities.

And I felt clean.  Inside and out.  Purged of all negativity.  I was recharged, body and soul.

When I battled the waves, I touched God.  And He touched me. 

I’ll never bodysurf again because it’s just too risky with my neck injury.  But I will always need to return to Lake Michigan when my spirit is aching or my soul is weak.  And when the lake is in a frenzy of crashing waves and flying spray, I can almost hear Him speaking to me, telling me to lean on Him.

And then I go home, strong enough to face the world again.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/06/30/daily-prompt-nature/