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.

20190125_094820