This I Believe

Bunny - Portland, Oregon
Entered on November 16, 2007

I believe in the spider web life—one thread tugging on another informing, affecting another part; each adding to the structure.

I spend much of my retirement participating in a chorus. It is a large part of my life, now spent in the solitary pursuit of correct pitches and the right rhythms. Even though there are 100 of us, each voice must stand alone in the crowd, and we are taught to sing, to breathe. Each must sing by herself; each must breathe for herself. Not much in my working life prepared me for this pursuit, but here I am.

During a recent trip to Hawaii, a companion suggested swimming from one beach, around a rocky headland, past a second beach and onto a third beach. I was game and decided to beat heavy into the water so as not to be a drag on the situation for my strong diver companion.

I was several yards into the murky bay before turning to make contact with my swimmate. I saw no one. Thinking he had passed me by, I paddled all the more strenuously. I felt uneasy, but decided to move ahead.

I was swimming by myself, a lone body in heavy seas. I moved further from the starting point and reached a point of no return. It was as far to the end as it was to the beginning or so I imagined. I launched myself into the next wave and headed for the end with ever-decreasing confidence. I am unsure one can consciously give into panic. I do know that panic is a beast and I was getting attacked by the beast. No, I was not wearing a flotation device and yes, I made mistakes but could not dwell on those mistakes now. I was committed to finishing the swim and here I was.

Bloody damage I received from an encounter with a rock kept me from more open, less turbulent waters. The knowledge that sharks were feeding on a whale carcass to the south seemed like a real danger at the time or at least knowledge worth considering. I decided to turn inland at the earliest opportunity far short of my expected point of land fall. The beast of panic can interfere with good decision-making. I wondered if it was already too late. Had the worst mistakes been made? Had I already made a fatal mistake?

I stopped looking up to check my progress; it was too heart-sickening to see the sliver of sandy dry beach remain a mere sliver of sandy, dry beach. I got swamped-twice. The longer I stayed vertical to clear my mask, the more distance I lost. I was in trouble and had been for a long time.

After coughing out salt water one more time, I got myself horizontal, stiffened my legs to reinforce my fin power and told myself to breath like a singer—over and over again. When the ocean floor came into view, I used the little depressions made by the action of the water to mark my progress. Each time a dip in the sand made it from my head to my flippers, my reward was to say to myself “breathe like a singer.” I saw the black grains of the beach sand mixed with the white sand of the ocean floor and raised my eyes enough to see my husband waving from the breakers. I had made it afterall and was at least 5 minutes ahead of my swimmate.

Breathing like a singer. In this I believe.