I wasn’t always afraid of the water, I grew up in Crystal Lake, Illinois, swimming in the crystal clear water and other area lakes at every opportunity and truly loved being a mermaid. But then came the dawn of JAWS and my swimming career was effectively halted. I remember trying to drown out my fears by singing to myself as I swam, in an attempt to not think about that shark and it’s reign of terror, but I sank in the fear of it all. One last swim in Crystal Lake at summer’s end, a snapping turtle poked it’s head up in front of mine and snapped at me — it was officially over. More sea-terror movies were rolled out, which effectively sealed the deal: Barracuda, Piranha, JAWS 2, JAWS 3, JAWS 4 (*cough*), Creatures, Tentacles, Titanic, ETC., I became content to stroll along the shores, even in the most docile of waters. The fear was big and silent and I gave into it.
Because if I swam, it would look like this:
I sometimes get a little embarrassed that so much of my life became unhinged (and is still unhinging) after my mom’s death. I hear a voice back there “yeah get over it already, it’s been two years now, do your thing whatever, stop talking about it!”
I understand grief knows no bounds, yet why am I quick to scrutinize and criticize myself when I find myself still grappling with it? Oy, the personal pangs that tug at me in the wee hours of the night when no one is looking, oy oy oy.
It’s true, I still struggle with grief and the confusion from everything that is now different in my life — I am mostly okay with my evolution, but some confusion remains. I’m certain many of these changes were inevitable because of my age ta boot; as I approach 50, I understand with more compassion than ever that many women simply must re-invent, re-discover or re-up, or literally lose themselves. I have found many of Dr. Christiane Northrup‘s books and workshops have helped me sort my way through this with better clarity and assurance I’m not losing my marbles. My mom’s death was perhaps the the dime I turned on, bringing with it new opportunities and exciting adventures, although — in hindsight — I can see it was going to happen no matter what. I was ready to shed my skin.
On Mother’s Day, 2013, I put my mom’s ashes in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin on a brutally cold and windy May day. Her ashes flew up and around me like a tornado before they landed in the lake. It was surreal, for real. I was surprised to learn there’s a boat service available for people to put ashes in the lake, and I sometimes wonder how many people are in that lake?? Ashes-to-ashes, I don’t really care, but I do like that my mom is there. She wanted to be in Green Bay because of the Packers and I decided that was too far; I wanted to keep an eye on her in Lake Geneva. So began my frequent visits to the lake.
There is an amazing 22-mile walking path around the entire lake and as the cold spring turned to summer, I began to sink my toes into the water. And then I dangled my legs and stared deeply at the water. One day I jumped in and cried. This happened several times. I had lost so much… jobs, addresses, people, things… it was terribly scary because I had no idea how I would climb out of this hole, but I had faith and this lake helped me. I felt tingly energy all around me and something about my existence had been elevated — it was hard to explain, but everything was different. By mid-summer, I was helping myself to absent-summer-resident’s personal boat docks and full-on jumping into the cool waters of Lake Geneva and feeling the calmest I had ever felt in my life.
The summer of 2013 was an amazing, amazing summer and I am forever be grateful for all of it’s lessons.
I left Illinois mid-November of that year and life became very, very different. I had made a promise to myself that the rest of my life would be “magical”, although I wasn’t even sure what that meant, except that it was fodder for jokes — and I love good jokes. Guess what? My life has become magical in many ways, and while there are still mundane and challenging things about it as there should be, I am totally enjoying what my life has become. Call it magical or intentional, I love they way I feel in my skin these days. I miss the Midwest and my days in Lake Geneva — Chicago too, but life has carried on, as it should, and my dreams keep me close to it all. Someday I will be back.
I am having the good fortune of spending this winter in Mexico with Reed; first at the house in San Miguel de Allende, and then traveling through Central Mexico while he attends to business. Situated in a lovely situation here in Bucerias, Nayarit, Mexico, this past weekend we made plans to spend the day on a boat with Chica Locca Tours that promised whale watching, water activities, food and drink, snorkeling, cave diving; a day out at sea on a very comfortable boat. This group completely delivered and we had an amazing, amazing day. Well I did, for sure.
My fear of open water is still pretty HUGE and when we arrived off the Marieta Islands (“there’s only one way to get there, and that’s to swim for it!“), it was up to us to gear up and swim to the island, where the fun would continue. I did not read this bit in the brochure and my heart sank a mile or two when this was mentioned. I put the fins and snorkeling gear on and became a blubbering, quivering lip awash in a terrifying wave of fear. Everyone was jumping in the water and I stood at the edge of the boat, trembling — NO I could not do this. It was too far away and it was OPEN WATER for Christ’s Sake and surely I would be eaten alive by some monsterous sea creature before I hit the island. This was the OCEAN, did they not realize??! I whelped to the guys I could not do it, no way, my heart was going to explode out of my chest and I was not strong enough. I waddled to the back of the boat to take off my gear and pout it out.
I looked over to the ladder on the side of the boat and said, “fuck it, I will hate myself if I don’t do this.” With that, I jumped into the terrifying (not!) waters and swam to the island. Holy Moley it was gorgeous!
It was a gooooooooooooorgeous adventure and I am sooooooooooo glad I jumped in! We swam to the island and explored the caves and tunnels and dark holes that I thought for sure electric eels lived in and were waiting inside to kill me or eat me and guess what? They were no electric eels waiting in darkness to kill me nor eat me because they couldn’t care less about me! I was the happiest clam in the ocean this day!
After this awesome adventure on Gilligan’s Island, it was time to swim back to the boat. Oh shit….. who moved the boat soooooooooo far away?? It’s even farther away now because some dumb law says it can’t be too close to the island. I was never going to make it and oh my gawd I can’t breathe and so why not kick wildly and claw at the water as if there’s a magic rope to lead me home …
I totally panicked and gasped for air as I attempted to swim for several minutes; holy Mackerel I was scared! Wait. Stop it Meag!
I put my goggles on and looked down into the water and saw holy mackerels but no sharks. I knew I had to stop this panicking and rolled onto my back and looked up at the sky. I needed to breathe more normally and take myself out of the equation. A song came to me that I sang in the temescal a year ago; we sang this as a way to pass the time while sitting in pitch dark, soul-cracking, sweltering heat:
- One little, two little, three little Indians
- Four little, five little, six little Indians
- Seven little, eight little, nine little Indians
- Ten little Indian boys.
- Ten little, nine little, eight little Indians
- Seven little, six little, five little Indians
- Four little, three little, two little Indians
- One little Indian boy.
Whad’ya know, I made it to the boat safe and sound!
Again, I was the happiest clam in the ocean! I have been walking on my tippy-toes ever since this glorious day, even though every muscle in my body is sore, but it is a good sore, a sore I am grateful for; a soreness that reminds me I swam to the damn boat, RAWR!
I realize there are people in today’s world who are facing much bigger fears and maybe not by choice, but by fire and I by no means intend to compare to anyone’s challenges. This was a first world challenge, for sure. I believe I become a better person, first to myself and then to others, if I take an opportunity to break down any personal barriers that have held me back in life, or have kept me feeling fearful. There is a freedom that has grown within me in the past two years that has altered the course of my life and I, for one, choose to celebrate all of these personal achievements, great and small.