As a Catholic grade-schooler, the nuns taught me a conversation with God was as important to my education as was getting good grades. The nuns chimed in ritualistic reminders, “Pray to God, evoke him in daily prayer, and you’ll be closer to him.” The idea is to develop a relationship with him and you won’t need to fear anything. I believed the lady, dressed in a below-the-knee pencil skirt and fitted button-down shirt with the collar button tightly fastened around her neck. It was the seventies and nuns were transitioning out of their religious habits of starched linens wrapped from the tops of their heads, draping down to the tops of their feet and into, you know, regular clothes. The nuns’ authoritarian tones were just as buttoned-up as were their commanding words. When uttered from well-enunciated mouths, their words made lasting impressions.
When I was seven or eight, swimming lessons at the country club interrupted my summer vacation, a time I thought when I was not required to do anything. On lesson day, Mom and I arrived early and we spent the spare time to find comfort on chaise lounges on the pool deck. I stood as I watched Mom pull a pair of chairs together, sit and unpack the beach bag, systematically shaking our towels and placing mine on the end of my chair, spreading hers to cover the chaise. “Okay, go ahead, you can take off your robe,” she said. I shook from the early morning chill while standing robeless because sun had not yet fully revealed herself to melt my goose bumps. Or was it nerves creeping along my body anticipating being immersed in cold water?
I remember that morning in full color and motion. The thick blue sky and the morning’s time allowed sun to rise and quickly warm the cement underfoot. I noticed the pool was empty; I liked being the only one. I wouldn’t get pushed into the deep end or get splashed by others. While I sat at the pool’s edge feeling safe with my feet dangling in sparkling water in a color that matched the sky, I felt fear inch toward me as ripples danced to my feet. Mesmerized by the visual chant, I lost my sense of place. I stared deeper into the water, hypnotic by a bottomless pool, and I believed I could see a depth far greater than it truly was.
As I inched closer to the edge, I was fixated on light while the warmth against my back nudged me in comfort. I succumbed to a trance-like state and suddenly was fearless. I was under water.
The gurgling in my water-filled ears was relentless. Bobbing and twirling in circles like a buoy, I tried to decipher if I was moving to the top or closer to the bottom. While chasing the light like a beacon guiding me to the water’s surface, I remembered the nuns saying something about evoking God and praying and trusting. “Help, come get me, which way do I go?” I asked God to show me the way. That’s when I found light. Or did the light find me?
I fanned my arms and kicked my legs with eyes wide open. And that was no fine example of swimming lessons I had previously learned. After only two lessons, my teacher was showing me how to put my face in the water and to blow bubbles while standing away from the pool’s side. I feared letting go of the pool’s edge when she said to me, “Okay, let go, gimme your other hand and let’s walk to the center.” I feared of not knowing where the water would take me. I feared putting my face in the water. And now I was facing my fears when I wasn’t in control, the water taking my entire head, not just my face.
Soon, a force grabbed me and landed me on cement. My savior wrapped me in a towel and rushed me to the arms of my unsuspecting mother.
Why did I first fear the water and then look at the bottomless pool as inviting and calming? Once submerged, was it, indeed, divine interception, my shout-out to God that stopped me from a bad outcome? Perhaps my daily prayer was answered and my trust in him guided me to the water’s surface or maybe it was simply my uncontrollable thrashing and wave-making that caught the lifeguard’s attention.
Today, I am unsure of how I ended up in the water from sitting at the pool’s edge. But once in the water, I didn’t feel as if I would drown but thought it was a matter of finding my way, to a safe place to be. I connected to words in silent prayer, reassuring me when I let go.
Our connections, whether to words said to us, or trust of ourselves, allow us to believe that everything will be just fine. When taken to places we would otherwise have never been because of our fears, we realize how connections always lead us to a good place to be, to the light.