I’ve moved my swimming day from Sunday to Saturday. This is the time when my writing consolidates and when I leave the pool I type into my laptop the images that have combined in the water. It’s here that the dusty looseness of my thoughts are dissolved somehow. Like making jelly, the simplicity of swimming freestyle magically produces a substance that will congeal. Tomorrow there will be something tangible, something sweet and slightly more solid than the thoughts of today.
The lady in the next lane had her ipod in a special waterproof jacket taped to her arm. This intrigued me. In my opinion nothing is as magical as the sound of the water, it is not quite like anything else I have ever heard. It’s the perfect accompaniment for my thoughts and to listen to my ipod would drown out the voices in my head, overshadowing all the things I am trying to resolve.
My life is extremely noisy and busy. This is the nature of teaching Kindergarten children who have such a zest for discovery that keeping them quiet would not be right. Maybe this is why I embrace the silence of the mornings and my time in the pool. Maybe this is the only time in the week I get to hear what is going on in me. I protect this time with selfish ambition. I do not want to share my lane in the pool nor my spot on the couch with anyone when I am unravelling the wool of tangled thoughts that make up my life.
The water was magnificent as the sun that promises the return of spring reflected through the surface creating an open, dancing net on the bottom of the pool. With every stroke, I swim closer to my freedom. This sickness, this reorientation of my life through cancer, the fear of the future and all the unknowns will not ensnare me though everyday it attempts to suck me into a vortex of despair.
It is remarkable how well we managed beating the illness. How we backed up each day for hospital to receive treatments and tests. I am amazed how that part of the battle was easier than this. No one could have prepared me for the aftermath, when the worst is supposedly over and life is meant to go on.
It does go on in a way but is different to before. There are so many times when I feel invisible and other times when I actually wish I were. I feel like Hush in Possum Magic enjoying the benefits of not being seen but desperately wanting to be normal again. Will life ever return to what it was? I think not, though most days I pretend it already has. I play along with life, acting as though everything is okay. I occupy myself with activity.
I return to university to study, to fill my evenings with more to do. I sit up late into the night reading about children with autism, wanting to gain qualifications to be an advocate for something or someone. I want to be useful again. I could battle anything now I tell myself. It doesn’t matter what or for whom. I just want my life to have purpose, to utilise the skills I have developed while fighting for Sam.
I have become so deep and so thoughtful about things that I just don’t know where I fit anymore. Even in my silence I wonder if people can hear me, if they can see the battle that rages in my heart. I feel alone in my predicament. The echoes of my heart pulse on a different spectrum, though inaudible, I find people who pick up the sound like radio waves, like sonograms, like the whale cry deep below the surface of the water and people come to my aide.
It’s a secret community with its own handshake where nothing even needs to be said. Jennifer Lawler writes, ‘It’s a club and the password requires an appreciation for dark humor, and you have to have been through gut-wrenching grief to get here.’ This is not where I want to be, all I really crave is simplicity and I wish that I’d valued it before when things were not so complicated. I’d do anything to have not endured what I have endured but I am trying to see what God wants me to see and how He wants me to get on with living my life.
His word tells me that “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope.” (Isaiah 42:3-4) I hang onto this hope too, knowing that I am bruised, that I have just a small flame left but I lean into His faithfulness because it has become the theme of my life and He has never failed me yet.
I take myself along to church because this is the habit I formed in my childhood, and even though I don’t want to go, I know it is going to be the best part of my day. It will be better than the pool, because today I left feeling a little bit more angry than I expected to and a little bit sadder than usual. The writing isn’t what I want it to be and I dare not post it on my blog.
In church my pastor talks only to me, he stands like God himself in front of me and I am rebuked. “Get away with Me and you’ll recover your life. Walk with Me and work with Me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of my grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.” (Matthew 11: 28 – 30) These words are truth to my spirit, I must let go of the things that I carry, I must step into the peace God has.
So today I returned to the pool to mix the lumpy bits that refused to dissolve in yesterdays swim. All the lanes were full, except the fast lane, which already had three other swimmers in it. I tell myself this is the right lane for me and take off with such speed to prove I belong there. After the first 50m I can barely breath, there is pressure on my chest and I hear God remind me to pace myself, to find the rhythm of the stroke, to swim like I normally do, to remember to lift my head.
It’s a beautiful swim on the perfect day and I realize how far I have come. Looking over my shoulder I see the face of Luna Park and I laugh as I am reminded that just a few years ago my greatest challenge was to conquer the fear of the fastest slide in Coney Island. I can see that God has a plan for my life and decide I will go on surrendering everything until I am positioned right where He wants me, that it doesn’t matter what He removes.
Like Annie Dillard writes about writing, ‘you hammer against the walls of your house. You tap the walls lightly everywhere. After many years attention to these things you know what to listen for. Some of the walls are bearing walls; they have to stay, or everything will fall down. Other walls can go with impunity. You can hear the difference. Unfortunately it is often the bearing wall that has to go.’
It is the same with life. The things that I thought were there to stay might need to be removed; He will find a different beam to support the weight of His purpose. It may involve a lot of mess before things are in place but it may just open my eyes to a whole new perspective. I am discovering that maybe it isn’t all bad.
This week one of my children arrived at school and gave me a gift of gerberas and a card from the newsagent that sang when I opened it. “Look, it is you, Ariel!” she told me and I see a Disney version of myself, swimming under the sea in a petite purple bikini top and a jade green tail. “Yes, it’s you at The Great Barrier Reef” the other children chorus and I laugh, as I treasure how they hold onto every single thing I tell them. Maybe they have heard my voice under the sea, my desire to escape all the things I fear, to surface to the land where humans are. As I write today I remember how Flounder sung to me from the kitsch card and I know that God is having a joke with me. “Darling its better down where it’s wetter. Under the sea.” Maybe in this season of solitude He really is opening up ‘a whole new world’ for me. Maybe He is allowing me to discover the pain of what it is to be in this awful club of grief and despair so that sometime in the future I can rescue others who feel so stuck in this place, like I do now.
He reminds me that He is close. He sends me everything and everyone I need. It is not the same as before but I am not lonely. There are those who heard the sonic cry of my heart as if God has sent them to me as part of His divine plan. They emerge from photographs of my past like a Polaroid developing in front of me, in a way I have never noticed before. It isn’t just my daughter and I alone on a journey. Beneath me He has woven a net from the shadows of the water, a reminder of how He connects me and frees me, releasing me to go the distance, however long it takes.