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The Swim

One of my favorite quotes from Joseph Campbell:

The mystic swims in the water where the common man drowns.
                                                                                                           – J.C.*

I have been trying to catch my breath. Partly drowning, partly swimming, mostly treading water. Yet I have noticed that even when I think I am just keeping my head above the froth and foam of each cresting swell, there are currents sweeping me far and fast away. I know not where.

Is it all bad? Hardly.
As to whether I’m drowning, that is a more complex question.

The answer is yes.

It feels clear to me that parts of me are indeed drowning. Drowning, drowning, dead. Small withering carcases of who I was clinging to me like scabs, soft and ready to be washed away after so many days submerged in this fluid of life, life so fluid.

There is no other day to describe this moment, for me, in me. Should I say – as me? That is yet an entirely different question, whose answer might be interesting but does not tell the story of how I got to where I am now (lost, reforged, germinating).

The past year – since November of 2012 … that is a long story. Much too long for me to spell out now. I will pick up the yarn near the end, the climax:
On December 10th, 2013, our daughter was born. She came at the end of one of the most dramatic and contorted years of my life. Several moves, an intercontinental stunt to “rescue” my father,  a new job, meeting my half-sister for the first time, and the reformation of my marriage behind us, Rumi’s arrival after almost two weeks of suspense and anticipation felt like reaching the top of the tallest mountain I’ve ever climbed.

On the fourth day after Rumi’s birth my father was rushed to the hospital after suffering a massive stroke. Within twenty-four hours it was put to me whether to commence a series of invasive interventions which may have prolonged his life, or choose to allow the body to wither and die. I choose the latter.

I do not know that I made the right choice in that regard.
I do not know that I will ever feel entirely satisfied – if that is something that can be acquired in time – that I made the right choice.

These … things. Not things at all but events in a life, all leave me feeling like I’ve lost all my bearings. Almost everything that I knew is gone, or has been remade in the wake of this internal tsunami.

It is the familiar lines of my character, the pillar of my world – the relationship between Roxanne and I, the constants of friends and family, and the memories of a life lived, that convince me that this is still the same “me” that walked the earth two years ago. It feels like so many of the things I held close and dear have been torn down or re-shaped, while new experiences were cobbled onto the surfaces of my heart … all of the landmarks are new and unfamiliar. I feel displaced within my skin.

Writing "The Swim"
Writing this post, looking out onto this new world. Seeing the new through the old.

Again – is it all so terrible?
No. It is just difficult, sometimes painful, sometimes so delightful I am overwhelmed at the grandeur of the new earth beneath my feet.

Rumi has brought with her a host of new challenges for us to meet and overcome. She’s added soaring new peaks of joy and heart-bursting gobs of loving to our lives.

The universe of parenthood unfolds new petals each new morning, noon, and night; this, along with living in a new place, being farther from family, losing my father, and accepting the yoke of a new job, have me grasping for something firm in the New, and clinging on to what was cherished and beloved in the Old.

Mostly, I recognize but refuse to surrender to, these things feel larger than me, and beyond my control. But this is no reason, I believe, to stop kicking, to go limp and allow the currents of life to sweep me along like so much flotsam. Part of the survival tactic has to be recognizing what is flotsam and what is jetsam, in the wreckage of my prior life; that, yes!, is work that must be done.

There is an imperative I must answer each new day, “What is salvageable, and what – if clung to and brought aboard – will cause this tender new vessel of life to tip and sink”.

As before, even as battered as it may be after these recent mash-ups, I know my compass is still true. Love will point the way. For this I am grateful: the heart is still the best guide any can have.

In passing I wonder – Are we not all castaways in this ocean of life?

Sink or swim, my dear heart, depends only on feeling rightly when to rest and float, and when to kick like your life depends on it.



* apparently - but not to my utter shock - I have this quote a little askew.

Published in Family Posts