Go with the Flow

Water has a remarkable, calming effect on me. A few years ago when I went temporarily crazy, feeling lightheaded and dizzy in stressful situations like driving, important meetings, or playing feasts, one of the things that helped me get right again was driving past the beach on my commute home. And I distinctly remember one break during a 12 hour procession in Hoboken where I walked out on this grassy plain jutting into the water, sat down and listened to the waves, and felt everything level off and normalize. It was a great, zen state of peace and I've achieved it many times since, whether finding a trickling stream while hiking in the woods, or just taking my lunch at one of the beaches near my office and listening to the waves. When I get back to work, any challenge that seemed insurmountable before I left suddenly presents a smooth solution.

I'm not sure why water, particularly the beach, has that effect on me. I hated going to the beach with my mom when I was a kid. I associated with swimming lessons, which didn't go well. Stick my face in a bucket of water and blow bubbles? What was that going to teach me? My homework seemed like torture, and I wasn't any more inclined to do for my mom what I wouldn't do for my instructors. It may have only been a few inches in a basin, but I thought she was trying to drown me. I think I was in high school before I was willing to open my eyes under water. I thought for sure it would sting, but was surprised to learn I could see after a second or two of adjustment. I still didn't like it, and barely passed the class, learning to at least propel myself while wearing a life vest.

Twice in my life I almost drowned. The first time, when I was only in 1st or 2nd grade, I was playing in a friend's pool. I would go in the deep end by hanging on to the edge. My mom may have gone inside for a minute, and when my parents aren't watching me is when I get in the most trouble. I slipped, scrunching my eyes shut and panicking. I flailed, but could not break the surface or tread water. I would get about an inch from air before I sank again. My friend's older sister was sitting poolside, and dove in immediately. There was this sudden rush of movement as she pushed me to the safety of the shallow end, and in an instant I was leaning on the edge, coughing up water. That was the last time I played with that kid, and my mom started keeping a closer eye on her accident-prone only child.

The second drowning came when I was much older, after a buddy's parents moved out to Montauk and would let him and his friends spend weekends there. I was walking around in the ocean, careful not to venture too far from shore, but it was the Atlantic freaking Ocean, bigger and more powerful than I can ever hope to be. So when I saw a wave coming that was larger than I was comfortable with, I turned and started to run to shore. But an undertow was tugging at my legs, and in one horrible instant the current yanked me back as the wave crashed on my head. I spun around in a vortex of sand and saltwater, realizing I was in serious trouble but remembering for once in my life not to panic. I opened my eyes in the murky cloudy depths, and began to actually swim! Like a fat frog, I kicked my legs back in opposing directions as my hands cleaved the water in front of me, and eventually struck...sand. That's right, I was swimming down. Somehow, and I can only credit divine intervention, I still kept my cool, and saw the sand as a good thing, because I now had a point of reference and knew which way was up. When I broke the surface, I was quite a ways out from shore, and the people on the beach were specks, unaware of my predicament, especially since I was pulled out and down a ways. I pressed forward, the tips of my toes just barely touching bottom, and felt more confident as I got into shallower water. I tried not to think what would happen if another big wave came along, and I just kept trekking toward land, shivering and shaking when I was finally, fully out of the water. And I never went in the ocean again.

Water is a funny thing. It cleanses, you know, washes dirt away, makes new. It can be beautiful to look at, and calm, or it can be a force to be reckoned with, be it fierce rain or strong currents. As ice and snow it can be a nuisance or even deadly. It can kill me. It's already tried twice, and may someday succeed. So why am I drawn to it? They built this brand new pier near my office, and I've been having lunch on it nearly every day since it opened. It's awesome. It has a little covering at the end over a couple of park benches, which came in handy one day when there was a light drizzle. The next day it poured so I skipped it. But on those nice days, sitting watching the boats, and the sun sparkling on the waves, it's like I've gone to Bermuda for an hour. I do my best thinking out there. It may well be the best thing to happen to that town since I started working there. Most days, it's hard to get up and make the 10-15 minute trek back to the office.

Improbably enough, I've been attacked twice. The first time, five geese flying in perfect formation over the water, veered toward land. I sat watching them get closer, and began to realize they were headed straight for me as they descended. They flew over the covered benches, and as two or three of them dropped loads in mid flight, I was very grateful for that wooden roof over my head. The second time was on Thursday, as I was enjoying a delicious roast beef sandwich with bacon and mozzarella, and looked up to see a HUGE bee right in my face. I stumbled up from the bench as it erratically followed me, stopping when my back hit the railing. What are the odds that a bee would fly out to the end of the pier, especially on a cool day in late October? It won't stop me from having lunch there, though I have to wonder what the odds of me being chased off and into the water by a little bee are. With my luck, it's probably greater than it should be. What say, you, WATER? Was that attempt #3?


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