Windmill arms, alternating strokes, supported by what my childhood instructors termed, flutter kicks. As I log meters in the pool, everything else washes away. Calm ensues. My endurance is not what it used to be, but a few laps are always possible and somehow, despite my reluctance to make the effort, every time I do, a tiny bit of life sorts itself out. Swimming allows me to think about other things. I can’t with running or cycling. The effort and discomfort make calm elusive. But throughout life, I return to the water. The wisdom of midlife, my late fifties reveals this pattern to me.
As a child, swimming was contentment, cool, refreshing. The lake or pool offered confidence, a sense of security. I think my Dad felt the same way, the same pull of the water. Some years with the ice only gone a month we would go for a quick plunge on the May long weekend in Lake Huron, and ideally, bookend the season with a final dip on Thanksgiving. This ritual gave others a reason to label us odd, but I hoped also to inspire a sense of awe. The water seemed to offer superhuman abilities.
It is this very love of water that drew me to Margaret Avison, the Canadian Metaphysical poet, whose “The Swimmer’s Moment” cemented a love of poetry and literature. It offered clarity about the activity. The reward I sought for pursuing churning waters.
Moments in my life, solace continues in the water. Anxiety washes away. The night before my wedding the glassy lake beckoned, a solo moonlight swim to ponder my next stage. A few days before the arrival of my first child, and later my second, the only place I felt grace and weightlessness came with each stroke in the pool. Within a few months of both my children’s birth they were in the water with me, never with resistance. Their squeals, flapping arms and legs signaled the same joy and comfort I experience, unconsciously reminiscent of months before in their amniotic fluid.
It now the eve of my son’s wedding, twenty-seven years later, an otherwise late riser, I find myself in the pool at 6:30AM. The water still offers sanctuary, peace, and space, to reflect on the privileges’ life offers me and the confidence to embrace the next whirlpool.
THE SWIMMER’S MOMENT
From: Winter Sun. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1962. pp.36
The swimmer’s moment at the whirlpool comes,
But many at that moment will not say
“This is the whirlpool, then.”
By their refusal they are saved
From the black pit, and also from contesting
The deadly rapids, and emerging in
The mysterious, and more ample, further waters.
And so their bland-blank faces turn and turn
Pale and forever on the rim of suction
They will not recognize.
Of those who dare the knowledge
Many are whirled into the ominous centre
That, gaping vertical, seals up
For them an eternal boon of privacy,
So that we turn away from their defeat
With a despair, not for their deaths, but for
Ourselves, who cannot penetrate their secret
Nor even guess at the anonymous breadth
Where one or two have won:
(The silver reaches of the estuary).
“Margaret Avison : Poems,” Canadian Poetry Online | University of Toronto Libraries | Margaret Avison, , accessed June 17, 2019, https://canpoetry.library.utoronto.ca/avison/poem7.htm.