Monday, July 25, 2016

Sink? Swim? Tread Water?—Jump In The Deep End

Sink? Swim? Tread Water?—Jump In The Deep End
            I’m not much of a swimmer. Those who tried to teach me gave up. My first husband said if ever I was in trouble in the water, he’d swim the other way for fear I’d drag him under. That episode didn’t raise my confidence.

            But I can’t think of a better analogy for what I’ve been doing the last three or four or five years than treading water.

            All my life I’ve had a premonition that I would live half of forever, not unrealistic given the history of the women in my family, most of whom lived into their nineties and longer. But living that long was never my goal.

            When I was twenty-three I should have died. That’s how they told me, the patrolman and the mechanic who towed my mangled pick-up and the insurance man. “You should have died.” They and others used those exact words while I was a month in a hospital bed in Great Falls.

            My life has been hard (but life is hard and nobody ever promised me it’d be easy). I’ve carried the effects of that wreck in my body every day. But I must have been born under a lucky (albeit wandering) star because somehow, thanks to many lifeguards along the years who’ve pulled me out of dangerous waters, I’ve learned to squeeze every moment for the gold, even if it is a golden reflection of the sun in a mud puddle.

            That doesn’t mean I’m always positive, always “up”. Heck, I get depressed, down and dirty, just like anybody else. Those who say they don’t, lie, intentional or not.

            So I was sitting in a rocker in my back yard watching a white butterfly the size of a plate, drifting in the breeze, looking for all the world like a sheet of fluttering rice paper, when I realized tears were running down my cheeks.

            “My heavens, Girl, you moved to Mexico to wait to die.” (I talk to myself. Often I’m the only human around.) Well, it’s true. My first trip home to Montana I began checking out nursing homes for when I could no longer live alone. I figured I’d not make it to seventy-five, the way I felt physically.

            That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy every day. I did. That’s who I am. I enjoy. But underneath my pleasure lurked a deep sense of resignation, of treading water.

Sitting in my chair watching that butterfly, I realized I’d undergone a cosmic shift.

            “Cosmic shift? Sounds awfully grandiose.” Oh, I mean a shift in my own wee limited cosmos.

One minute I’m wading in a shallow pool and suddenly I’m swimming in the deep waters. That’s how I feel. I don’t recall jumping in. Maybe the waters rose around me, gently.

Three months ago I moved from the coast (where I was perfectly happy) inland to the mountains (where I am the same happy—no more, no less). Bought a house; house with problems. Every house has problems. So it’s not the house that makes a difference. Wherever I go, there I am. It’s not the place that makes a difference. I didn’t win the lottery or grow new legs or find magic mushrooms.

            Living, whether deeply or on the surface, is an inside job. I can’t explain even to myself.

            Living fully, to me, means I can’t sift through the stuff that makes up each day and pick or choose. Some events I welcome; some I’d rather do without. But I get to have the whole mixed-up bag. Not everything is black and white. I have “treading  water” days.

I still can’t envision dragging my battered body into my nineties. But I’m swimming through the waves without fear of drowning.

None of us know, right? I may not have tomorrow but I have today. And, among the lizards and scorpions, today has lacy white butterflies. Not every day is a butterfly day.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

June 9, 2016    

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