Along with all the other enchanting events of this summer—like getting married to a really incredible man on a sunny day at a lighthouse when I had previously given up all hope of getting married again at all and then having my sister make me some bang-up fancy cakes—my friend Red, the surfer, taught me how to swim in the ocean while we were in North Carolina.
I mean properly.
Those of us who grew up landlocked do not necessarily know how to swim in the sea. In fact, I was thirteen before I ever even saw the Atlantic Ocean and twenty-three before I laid eyes on the Pacific.
And at this rate, I’ll be forty-three before I finish this elephant sweater.
I do however know from soybeans and feeder corn and can, upon request, do a perfectly credible imitation of a 1970s-era radio farm commodities report, the “shipping news” of the Midwest.
The following can only be properly delivered while wearing a John Deere cap. (There is also no talking or commentary between the individual commodity listings. The basic information should be enough for you; there is no need to carry on about it or embellish it. Who do you think you are, some kind of fast-talking East Coast economist? My God man, this is Southwest Iowa, not Wall Street!)
Soybeans, up two.
(Long pause to savor this good news. Silently.)
Feeder corn, down three.
(Another long pause to allow this ominous drop to sink in.)
Milo, up four…
And so forth. It’s a kind of poetry to me. But it doesn’t teach you how to deal with waves.
Last summer, I mistakenly thought I knew how to swim in the Atlantic, which was all well and good until I got hit by a big, big wave. I mean, I stood there and got hit.
The wave broke over my head, swamped me, picked me up, turned me upside down, and smashed me on the beach. Smash, scrape, smash! I had scrapes and sandburn and a bathing suit full of tiny rocks and sand. So roundly was I dashed against the beach that there were little stones and sand in between the lining of my bathing suit and the outer layer.
So there I am sitting on the beach in a tangle of my own limbs, choking up salt water, spitting up small fish, gathering up what tiny shreds are left of my dignity, not to mention my bathing suit, and thinking, “Guess I don’t have the hang of this.”
I finished this Cherry Tree Hill sock, though. (Shown here with canine head.)
This summer, Red showed me that when a wave is about to hit you—and in particular to break right over your head—you just hold your breath, make like a fish, and dive right through it.
In two seconds, you are out on the other side, none the worse for wear and ready to work with the next wave. But that’s the key, you see, a fact that I now understand. You have to work with the wave, you can’t fight it. You can’t stand there like a oak tree and expect a good outcome. You gotta move like a fish, even though instinctively it seems like diving through a big wave like that is the first step down the path toward a drowning death.
Still life with handknit sock.
Even while we were out there diving through the waves, I was thinking that this swimming lesson could be a great metaphor for how to manage life’s difficulties. I think too often I stand there gracelessly and let life’s “waves” hit me, pick me up, and smash me against the beach and then I sit there choking and sputtering and bleeding and wondering what the hell just happened. I struggle and flail about and fight situations I should be wise enough to…dive through and let pass right over my head.
Think there’s any chance I can actually practice that maneuver instead of just bloviating about it on the blog?
Or will it be like Gabriel Garcia Marquez said of wisdom, that it always comes too late to do any good?
But I have hope. After all, look how much I learned about diving through from just one summer to the next.