When last you left the intrepid adventurers, they stood on the bank of Sideling Hill Creek, just past the Fairy Cairn with its glittering adornments and offerings, on the bank of Stoneledge Hole.
Patrick, a good 6’3” and thin as rail, stood there next to my fat 5’9” frame. We were both clothed in our traditional black–Patrick’s more traditional than mine. I did actually wear color at that time in my life; it was just rare.
But very soon, the color or even presence of our clothes became irrelevant. Our safety. The fact that no one else knew where we were. All irrelevant.
Irrelevant because at just about the same moment, we were talking our clothes off. There was snow on the ground, but the creek had no ice in it and was moving along at a gentle, but not insignificant, pace. We were taking our clothes off and then we found ourselves standing side-by-side.
Irrelevant and Essential
I had to get into that water. I needed it. I needed to be washing clean of the sadness, the bleakness, the grime of daily life. I needed to find a way to ritually claim myself, my life, my adulthood. And I was convinced the water held that power.
And then Patrick, the bank, safety (already WAY in the back of my mind, if I had even considered it at all) were gone. There was a great splash as I launched myself into the water, went under, and then up and taking the biggest breath of my life. And another. And another.
And then I laughed–the barking sound of joy my father always used to make–and dove under again. And again with the emerging, the impossible breath, and I was in Sideling Hill Creek in January.
It was madness, maybe I thought. But if I did, I didn’t really mean “madness.” I just meant off the hook. Off the chain. And I was elated.
Still breathing hard. Still aware of my heart desperately trying to beat warmth into my body, I decided just to let the current take me a bit. To look up at the sky and allow myself to spin in its endlessness.
And then, over the course of what was probably less than a minute, I realized I’d been up a long time. It was late. I’d been working all day. I was tired.
Why not take a nap?
I could just turn gently to the side and kind of pillow my arms. My body is buoyant (really buoyant) and the
water would hold me. If I had known the poem “First Lesson” then, I would have thought, “Lie back, daughter / and the creek will hold you.”
And just as I began to turn, I heard something.
Something in the corner of my mind still very much awake..
Something that came from that weird, front-and-left part of my brain (ye, it really felt that way, in those days.)
A voice as clear as a bell, cutting through the joy, the spinning world, the growing sleepiness and desire for Union.
Sometimes Divine Madness is Pragmatic
“It’s not sleepiness, dumbass. It’s hypothermia.”
And all of a sudden, with the sure knowledge that I was going to die unless got myself out of this water, I turned and looked at the shore…
…which was, of course, many meters farther away than it had been when I first had thrown myself into the little river’s welcome.
I tried to swim freestyle. To pull my arms out of the water and over my head. To breathe in cycles. To pull over toward the rocks and get my hands around them.
I tried to swim a coherent breastroke, but somehow, my limbs seemed to be doing less and less as moments went by.
I wasn’t panicked, just sleepily aware of how much I wanted to stop and how much that voice was right. I. Must. Not. Stop.
And there was Patrick, mother-naked on the bank, waiting for me.
My legs are a lot stronger than my arms, and were just working better. It was like they had more air. I could kick out strongly, looking at Patrick, just sort of reaching my arms forward and trying to do something with my numbed hands.
I reached the bank. I can hardly believe it now. And I grabbed Patrick with all my might, and he grabbed me, and we stood there, newly born of the water, freezing and shivering, and with feet like very painful blocks of wood.
I had been baptized. Made new in the searing cold. Stripped of everything but wonder. Besides the wooden feet and the cold air, my mind was filled with a galaxy of connections.
Myself in the water, almost slipping into unconsciousness (some part of me wanted to go back and try and see whether it would have worked, if I could have napped, if I might not have sputtered or drowned.). The Star Goddess, whose body is the spiral the universe dances. My connection to all things. All things bright and beautiful. There was no place within me for anything I could call ugly. I was scrubbed pink and blue and white and I was in awe of the glory of creation.
I looked up, and the trees looked lit from within. How much time had passed? I had no idea. Were there still stars and a moon, or had the sun begun to rise? We could so one another, and the world sparkled with life, so I assume it was becoming morning in earnest, but mostly the light came from behind my eyes.
Mostly the light was from the water. From the cold. From my body’s insistence on living. From that clear, no-nonsense voice.
And did I mention the cold?
Did we have towels?
Did we have a fire?
But we had our dry clothes.
And, thank everything holy, we had a car. A car with heat.
And so we hobbled on our wooden feet to the car where we fell into what Patrick calls to this day, “the Death Nap,” because the heat of the car put us so firmly into sleep. I have no idea how long we slept, only that when I woke, it was definitely morning, I was definitely warm, and I was certainly alive.
There is more to this story–a quiet meeting in the Farmhouse with someone who would later become my good friend; the drive home; my ignorance of the danger we had been in; the dawning realization that took years that we really were in danger. There is, though, really no moral of the story.
It was beautiful.
The swimming, the impossible breaths, the shivering together on the shore. The body of bodies. The slick slide of our arms over one another in an entirely desperate embrace that had nothing to do with sex and yet everything to do with survival.
And the life of the world, the Light of the World, shining through the leaves. The sparkle of madness that lit up a life.