Friday, November 18, 2016
White Water was a huge water park in Oklahoma City, a place where legions of children, dressed in all manner of swim and floating gear, and adults, tugging large coolers of processed food and Capri Sun, would convene to escape the boiling summer heat. Our family would make the 40 mile trek to OKC to spend hours running wild, season passes clutched in hand, so exhausted by the end of the day that my mother would have the sweet relief of a carful of sleeping children on the ride home.
White Water had all of the features of a regular water park: the lazy river, the stories-high White Lightening slide, the kiosks where you could get sizzling hot french fries that rested salty against your chlorine-soaked tongue. But the strangest and sometimes most wonderful part of the park was the wave pool. It was enormous, hundreds of people packed into it's football-field like expanse just waiting, waiting. Suddenly the bell would ring, a scream would erupt from the crowd and the water would start moving, great undulations of waves roiling from deep within its man-made ocean.
I've been thinking about the wave pool lately as it applies to life, this wave pool in particular because unlike the ocean, there was a certain rhythm to the waves. You could sit atop of your raft and ride, or stand closer to shore and slam your body, back turned, against them. And there was that middle ground where you weren't quite tall enough to touch the bottom without the waves washing over your head. This was the thrilling, sometimes terrifying space, that space in between feeling solid and feeling the rush of danger. And, depending on the day, depending on how crowded the wave pool was, depending on the strength of your skinny legs to buoy you up, you sat on the edge of being plowed under or keeping your head above water. The rhythm of the waves had not changed, neither had your expectation of them being there, but the circumstances and your place in them became the variables of remaining above or being sucked below.
I've held this metaphor in my mind a lot lately, as friends have struggled with some pretty deep loss and sadness over the past year, as I myself negotiate my own place in the world, as we as a community lean in to lift one another up when we aren't feeling so strong. I think sometimes it's awkward to ask for help, that metaphor of being in a situation where you know that the waves are coming, but you just don't have the strength in the moment to kick yourself above them, or where how hard and disorienting it may be when everyone else seems to sit atop the water on their own raft while you can barely keep your head clearing the water's roiling plane. And, to extend the metaphor, the folks sitting atop the rafts likely don't even know you are struggling, because their gaze is shifted outwards toward the horizon, their perspective raised above what is happening below. But there is room on the raft for two, maybe three even. I know this, and I know the hospitality of that space if I just ask. Why is it sometimes so hard to do so?
I want to keep working with the raft metaphor, or to talk about the strength of pushing off of the bottom and riding the wave, that powerful feeling of not so much the wave striking your body, but the ride of catching it as it comes and not being swept under by it. To push up and engage, the timing of it coming and you being ready, the sheer thrill of knowing that something can drag you under but using your energy, your life force, to meet it and unify, to roll into it and wait for the next one.
Because the truth is that the waves stop until they start again, and they do start again because life is not static and change happens and shit happens and hard things happen all the time. But the key is this: you are not alone in the pool, although you feel that you may be, and your position in the pool is based on your own negotiation. That's the thing I need to remember most. I choose how I work with the waves.