Wednesday, June 08, 2005
Surviving the Wave Pool
My mother sat watching on firm ground while her children flailed about in the local pool taking their swimming lessons. She has a fear of water and she never wanted her children to be afraid like that. It must have been very hard for her to watch me negotiating for the privilege of doing all my practice swims in the shallow end of the pool. I did not like being out there where I could not touch bottom with my feet, out there where I could not cling to the side of the pool. I learned to swim, but not with grace and I never learned to tread water. I still do not like water in my face, and I don’t like being in water over my head. Looking back, it does occur to me to wonder why my mother did not think to face her fears for herself. She should have been the first one in the pool taking lessons.
Years later, we took my daughter for the first time to a wave pool. I stood in chest high water with her, my toes clutching the bottom of the pool so that we would not get carried away, and held her hand in a death grip while I watched her flailing about underneath the waves. Her eyes were wide open and she grinned at me with the kind of four-year-old delight that causes a mother’s heart to melt with pleasure. Just as I began to harbor thoughts of “rescuing” her and pulling her up out of the water so she could breathe again, the wave would subside and she would burst through the surface laughing. The picture is so firmly etched in my brain. For me, the tension was palpable; she was overjoyed, I was afraid I was going to let her drown in the man-made waves, and yet the sun shone crisply and people all around were laughing and having great fun. Though I never learned to totally relax in the water, we survived the wave pool, time and time again.
There are times in all our lives when certain themes become apparent. It was only a couple of years ago that a picture of God and the waters began to emerge in my thoughts. It all started with just pieces of two verses from Isaiah: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you” and “I am the Lord your God, who churns up the sea so that its waves roar—the Lord Almighty is his name.” For me, it was a somewhat disturbing picture of God. I don’t often argue with God, but I did when these images started coming into my mind. It made no sense to me that I was to take comfort in passing through rivers and being churned up in the sea when I like being on firm ground and I dislike swirling around in roaring water. I did not want to see God in the sea. I preferred seeing him in calm places with my feet firmly planted on solid ground. I wanted to let someone else enjoy his peace in chaotic waters, someone like my daughter, who loves the water. She can swim. She loves the water in her face. I wanted to stay with my image of God carrying his sheep like a shepherd and gently leading those that are with young.
This weekend in New Orleans, as I sat on firm ground and watched the river, I realized that I have, to some degree, made peace with the swirling waters. The river is noisy. The ferry bell blasts out every single time the ferry crosses the river. Tugboats sound a warning bell as they come around the curve of the river. The train across the way blows its whistle as it comes to the intersection at Canal St. You can hear the waves of the river beating against the banks. You can see the ripples on the surface of the water. From my vantage point on a balcony six floors up, I could see and hear all these things. And then I heard the faint notes of a jazz band warming up, and it was like God whispered in my ear—I’ve been with you all along, and look, you have survived the wave pool, time and time again.