Monday, May 02, 2005

Relearning How to Swim

One of the first poems to raise goosebumps and send chills down my back was Mary Oliver's "The Swimming Lesson". I was only seventeen and had no idea who Oliver was, but I instantly knew she'd been some of the same places I had and she'd come away with the same unwelcome knowledge about life. The last stanza of her poem reads, in part as follows:

". . . none of us, who ever came back
From that long lonely fall and frenzied rising,
Ever learned anything at all
About swimming, but only
How to put off, one by one,
Dreams and pity, love and grace, --
How to survive in any place."

Lately I find myself in the position of regathering what I threw away earlier in order to survive --dreams, pity, love and perhaps most especially grace. It's a frightening prospect, and as often as not, I'd rather turn and run away than pick up the shards of these things and hold them in my hands. They were my undoing once.

Or perhaps they weren't.

Could it be that the substitutes I used in their places were my real undoing? Self-injury, a locked heart, a refusal to trust? These things kept pain at bay enough to allow me to function in the outside world, but the cost was high: broken relationships, crippling self-hatred, the isolation of emotional exile to a desert isle of my own making.

I've never been a good swimmer.


alaiyo said...


Makes me think of Prufrock again -- "We have lingered in the chambers of the sea / By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown / Till human voices wake us, and we drown."

The drowning happens here, in what too many call "the real world" -- the world where we live to escape the pain that inevitably comes in living with possibility and potential, with love and grace. But I find that I'm more willing, often, to drown in unreality than to take the risks . . .

Are you familiar with Matthew Arnold's "The Forgotten Merman"? If not, you should read it . . . The merman and his children are abandoned by the wife, who makes her home in the cold, grey, rigid world of the town . . . It was one that nearly killed me when D went to live with y'all . . .

love you!

alaiyo said...

Sorry -- it is "The Forsaken Merman," not "forgotten," and here is a link to it:

Randy said...

Well it sounds like you know what you are doing. I hope this doesn't sound trite ... but :)

At least in the "living Water" of the Lord's love you can't drown.


Cindy said...

Beth--Thank you for the link. I'd not read Arnold's poem. Now that I have, I'll have to ponder it awhile. And look up Prufrock again, also.

Randy--He drowns me on a regular basis, it seems. Holds me under until something dies. Or maybe it's just that I sometimes wish He would.

Fieldfleur said...

You said that you weren't ever good at swimming ... does that include dogpaddling too? When we used to swim in some of those Ozark rivers as a kid, it was the dogpaddle that kept me from going under. Is there an emotional type of dogpaddle, mewonders?
Appreciate your honesty about such things,

Toad said...

When Roy took us to get into the Pacific Ocean for the first time, I noticed something about the people swimming in it: to get past the waves, they dive under and roll with the undercurrent. While they weren't swimming as fast as one could in still waters, they were able to glide past the oncoming force that would otherwise continue to batter and push them back. A sort of controlled surrender, if you will. Maybe a smooth current and a good snorkel is all you need. If not, maybe I can come up with a suitable floatie. :o)
Love you Sis. Am SO VERY GLAD to be back home and close to you.

Joyella said...

CindyLu, everytime I read your posts I feel that we are somehow on the same's odd. I also appreciate your honesty here and your insights. You put words to some of my very own thoughts and it helps me understand me as well as you. Blessings on your head.