An excerpt from “Nearly Orthodox: On being a modern woman in an ancient tradition”
Just add Water
Water is very forgiving. Everything lifts in water. —Sarah McLachlan
When I was under the water I could hear voices. Western Hills High School had a pool, and swim lessons were free. I was six years old, waiting in the water in the back of the group, and I was bouncing. The feeling of floating was calm, and the noise from the instructor talking was buffeted by the walls and returned by the rounded ceiling of the room. Everything was echoes. It was like church, and I was bouncing: toes to the floor of the pool, shoulders breaking free, toes to the floor, ears in the water, toes absent 26 floor, head absent surface. I was under the water, and I could hear the instructor’s voice droning on, muffled now.
I’m underwater, I thought to myself, feeling proud of my accomplishment. I felt satisfied that even though I’d bounced myself into the deep water, I knew to hold my breath. I was there a moment, calm, floating, closing my eyes, listening in, and then I heard my mother’s voice. I heard her screaming, and I opened my eyes. I looked up to see her rushing to the edge and pointing at me. I heard her clearly, “Somebody GET HER!”
I panicked, moving then to try to break the surface and finding I could not. Hands were on me now, pulling me up till my face felt the air again. I took a breath and I was afraid. I had not been afraid when I was under the water, floating there serene and in control. I thought I knew what I was doing under the water. I was dreaming under the water.
They brought me back to the shallow end of the pool and sat me on the cold, concrete edge. I was quiet and I was shaken. I’ve done something wrong, I thought. I was sure I’d frightened my mother, but I was more afraid I’d disappointed her.
Now, as an adult, I’m uncomfortable in the water. I won’t allow my head to go under the water if it can be avoided. I never regained the comfort I felt before I knew to be afraid. When faced with swimming, I admire the water from the shore, from the edge, from the land. I lean into it at the shallow end and I think about that day when I was six years old and I found myself under the water. I think about that every single time.