This summer I was in the water a lot, just like my mother used to be. And, just like my Mom, I lay back in the water and floated. But unlike Mom, for whom floating was as natural as breathing, my floating was practically a miracle. For the first time in my life — yes, the first time in more than 70 years — I managed to float.
It happened in a small lake hidden in the hills of northern Ontario. The water was pleasantly cool and calm, and a light rain spattered softly. Since the lake was remote and no one else was around, my two friends and I were swimming au naturel, wearing only lightweight shoes to protect our feet from the rocky shoreline. We paddled around leisurely, at first chatting together, then drifting apart amiably. I’m not a strong swimmer, so at some point I eased into a sidestroke and then turned over onto my back. Philip Booth’s poem First Lesson rose in my mind, so I spread my arms wide, lay back in the water, and looked up at the sky. I fully expected my feet to sink downwards, as they inevitably do. To my astonishment, my heels rested quietly on top of the water and my whole body buoyed up effortlessly. I was floating!
Surrendering to the pleasure, I felt awash with blissful ease. The water held me. And now, in this moment of writing, it occurs to me how held I am, every day. A warm rock braces my back as I lean against it. A wind-blown oak tree shelters me from the sun. Connections with family members and friends, the smile from the cashier in the local grocery store, my hubby’s frequent hugs — all these experiences hold me, and tenderize my heart with gratitude. I do realize that my trust in being held is reinforced by the sheer luck of my life’s good fortune. I send a prayer across the green hills: may all beings, in one way or another, experience moments of being held in trust and peace.
Back to my friends. The following day, we swam in Lake Superior. The waves surged against the shore and I bobbed around vertically, unable to lie back without being swamped. Did I float? No. But as we played in the swell, our affectionate laughter held me in sweet friendship. And I’m happy that at least once in my life, I felt what Mom enjoyed each time she went for a swim. Now, in my mind’s ear, it is her voice I hear speaking First Lesson.
Lie back, daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man’s float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
Lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back and the sea will hold you.
~ Philip Booth