A picture by the pool

A good part of my journey to healing has, these past few months, taken place during regular swims. My thrice-weekly pilgrimage to the pool has vastly helped my body gradually regain its balance and mobility. Most days, the experience is nothing but joyful. But today was different.

It happened so unexpectedly – so utterly out of the blue. One minute, I was steadily cutting strokes through the water, hearing an instructor cajole her two small charges into dunking their heads, and the next moment, I grimaced, gulped hard and couldn’t hold back the tears.

I realized almost immediately what triggered the deluge: The all-too-graphic visuals of a poster tacked up on the board at the shallow end of the pool – until now, hidden from view behind a moveable swim-schedule board. It was a jarring image: a photo of a man lying on his back on a stretcher, his movement restricted by a neck brace; coupled with a graphic “no diving” logo (depicting a person diving into water, with a red diagonal line crossed over). The combination of those images shattered the calm inside and out, sending my brain into a tailspin, my mind resurrecting memories of the dive I’d taken through the bridge. My whole body shook underwater, as I struggled to keep my stroke in stride, visualizing myself in that man’s place, and the luck I’d had in not breaking my skull or severing my spinal cord.

Like a sudden torrential downpour, the clouds opened and the rains fell. I realized that the memories and flashbacks had not yet all been swept away. So  I wept even as I tried still to swim. My tears flowed freely. If the drops were rolling down my face, there was no way to tell. But there was no sniffling, no need for a tissue. Salty tears were washed away by the clear chlorine, disappearing into the volume of water that surrounded me. Every time I came up for air, I was certain that the mixing of the waters had a cleansing effect. And by the sheer movement I created underwater I was able to slowly propel myself through the agony of the memory, the terrifying leap that I could not have anticipated.

By the time I reached the deep end, I was close to regaining a sense of calm. The last of the tears had dissipated into the cool clear water and I could breathe freely again. Perched on the ledge, I took a look around. The lifeguards, as always, were keeping an eye on our motley bunch of midday pool-users. The water therapist was coaxing her stroke patient into taking baby steps; a Russian mother lovingly helped her developmentally-delayed daughter move her arms in circular motion; the man with the massive goggles and snorkeling gear was onto his umpteenth lap nearby; and a gaggle of grey-haired seniors applauded loudly at the end of their arthritis-aquafit class.

For a short while, unnoticed by others, I had been knocked out of my usual swim-induced state of bliss. I’d felt unsteady, fearful for what could have been, nervous about what might still happen. But then, the water, with its uncanny healing powers, delivered me back into a state of wholeness, presence and grace. All is well, I am safe in the cocoon of water.

For that too, I am grateful.

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