The Love of Water
When I was a small person, before I reached the wise age of 14 or so, I would go for walks. I would sing as I walked: Songs I knew from the Top 40, songs from church, songs from the alternative mixtapes my best friend made for me, or songs I made up. Sometimes songs with words, sometimes not.
The singing was important. And the dog who sometimes walked with me was important.
But most important was the rain when it came. And even better if it were nighttime rain accompanied by thunder and lightning. If that were the case—thunder and lightning—I would go out into the big-drop rain alone. I would leave the house in my raincoat, but that wouldn’t last.
I would take off my shirt and stuff it into the pockets of my coat. I swear, I’d’ve walked naked in the rain if I thought I’d not get caught. As it was, I walked with my coat over my arm and my shirt stuffed into my coat, I got drenched by the water.
Drenched to the skin—and since my skin wasn’t covered, that wasn’t hard—with the rain making runnels out of my hair, I was happier than at any other times in my life. Happier than church, where I was a happy kid. Happier than on stage, where I was a happy performer. And certainly happier than school, where I was sometimes happy but too often a target.
I lived in central Pennsylvania where this kind of rain comes in the summer. It’s warm then. The rain falls with big drops that leave huge circles on car windows. The rain comes pelting down. You can’t see ten feet in front of you. Lightning strikes, and when it’s near you, the thunder comes right with it and you jump.
Once when my mom and I were in town, lightning struck right across the street from us. The world became nothing but a flash, an impossible brightness that seemed to be carried by the rain pounding on the roof.
These times—the walking in the rain, the glorious violence of lightning—always felt like Life to me. They still do. I could tell a thousand more stories about water bringing my soul to life, and I will tell another one here. A very different one.
Water deities and spirits are sometimes portrayed as creatures or beings of beauty and compassion. And on the other hand, some of them are portrayed as creatures or beings of beauty and deadly seduction.
Yemaya, the loving mother whose descendants are as numerous as the fish… The selkies and sirens who draw the unsuspecting to watery deaths… Water has many sides. Aphrodite, born on the sea foam…the Lorelei of the Rhine, singing people to their depths…
One night fifteen or so years ago, I experienced both sides of water, both together, both love and danger.
It was January. I was melancholy, probably depressed. I couldn’t feel anything, and I longed to feel alive again. I was speaking with a dear friend, and he asked me where I wanted to be. I said without hesitation that I wanted to be at my spiritual home, Four Quarters.
It was two in the morning, or something like that. But he said, “Let’s go,” so we did. We drove the two hours or so through the night, avoiding the deer on the road and managing not to wreck as he took the gravelly turn too fast.
We drove down to the water’s edge, right by my favorite swimming hole. Near the cairn where people leave offerings for the Fairy Folk, just down a little incline. I stood and looked at the water. I could feel how cold it was. Certainly, I could feel my breath, and I knew the water was cold, heart-stopping cold.
I watched the current in the dark beneath the stars. I heard it. I listened so carefully and tried to hear some wisdom there. But all I heard was my name, over and over.
And so I—and my friend, dear thing—took clothes off and plunged into the water.
Answering The Selkie’s Invitation
I pushed in, my head under water, and then, coming up, my lungs took in the largest gasp of air of my life. Breathing, breathing, breathing, trying desperately to fan the bellows of the warmth of life. Nonetheless, I stayed in the water.
I swam a few strokes, and then rolled over onto my back. I looked at the stars and how they were fading in the earliest moments of false dawn. The stars seemed to spin, as though I could see all the revolutions of the Universe.
And then, then I had a thought…
I thought, oh, I’m tired.
I thought, oh, I could just turn to the side here. I could just float here and take a nice nap.
Somehow the water didn’t feel so cold anymore. I didn’t feel cold. I just felt…peaceful. Peaceful for the first time in a long time.
Peaceful and tired.
And then a voice in my head, bless my crazy mind, said, “You’re not tired, dumbass! You’re getting hypothermia.” And I sort of sat up in the water and thought, Holy shit, I am.
Allowed to Return
And by now, I had floated away from the entrance to the Fairy Cairn. I had to swim. But my arms were so heavy and slow. My legs were like logs, stiff and unbending. But apparently, I had enough will left to get them all to move. And to breathe, to breathe more and more deeply.
When I got out of the water, I saw that my friend was there too. He, 6’3” and thin as thin and I, 5’10” and round as a pear. We embraced there on the edge of the water that had seduced us into itself in January. We embraced, mother-naked and freezing and shaking with shivers.
Our feet were blocks of wood. Blocks of wood with knitting needles stabbing into them with every step. The sun was really coming up over the hills now, and the trees were magical. The stones were magical. The glittering gifts in the Fairy Cairn were certainly magical.
I was freezing. No one knew where we were. We could both have died.
And I was alive. So alive. I got what I came from, though the price could have been more than I wanted to pay.
“Not feeling anything?” She asked. And the reply, “Come to me, come to me, come to me, and I will give you what you ask.” But the price, the price could have been much higher than I reckoned.
Let’s Talk More
As you can see, I have had my own varied experiences with water.
Not only that, but water is the great love of my life. Its images as the site of emotion, compassion, intuition, delusion, love, seduction…they seem limitless. And every time I encounter water in a new way, when I am paying attention, I am better for it.
Nonetheless, I shall never do a Polar Bear plunge. I had my fill of the heart-freezing embrace of winter water. Enough for this lifetime, at least.
This Thursday, I’m going to talk more about the poetic, mythic, and metaphorical powers of water. We’re going to have poems, images, deities, and spirits. And the call is free. You only need register here.
The call is at 5 pm PDT/8 pm EDT. As I said, it’s free to join us and it’ll be about forty-five minutes or so, though if we get some good conversation going, who knows? I’d love to see you there. Truly. Do join me.
And beware of the voices of wintry water, eh?