Just Plain Foolish

Just a chance for an old-fashioned, simple storyteller to say what needs to be said.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The power of life

From childhood, I have loved to watch water flowing - whether it was orange well water into a bathtub, clear water over the stones of a creek, a thunderstorm sheeting down, or the mighty brownish Ohio running into the arms of the Mississippi. I was entranced with the power of the water, and when I finally saw the ocean, I perched up on some rocks, just to watch the waves flow. My dad pointed out to me that the ravine behind our house had been carved by water over an enormously long time, shaping the rocks, and that in other places, water has carved through even harder stone than the limestone bones of the Appalachians. So powerful, and yet so necessary. Without the water, people, trees, everything would die.

When we would visit the ocean, I loved to wade out until the water was nearly chest high, then begin swimming until a bigger wave came along, and let it carry me back to the beach. I could feel the power of the water all around me, and once or twice, I was slammed harder than I expected, knocking the air from my lungs, leaving me coughing, but always I would go back to the water again, to feel the rushing waves carrying me. And though I am a strong swimmer, always I knew the need to be careful, to respect the water - because water is stronger than the strongest swimmer.

And I remember while my parents were finishing their educations, we lived for a couple years in the Big City (though my husband, who is from Chicago and proud of it, informs me that the cities I think of as so big, aren't *that* big.) In front of the place we lived, there was a sidewalk, old and cracked, and there the grass would grow up through the cracks. I remember thinking how strong even the little grass must be to break the thick concrete, so that it could reach for the sun. Only when I was older did I learn that the grass and the water work together to break rock and concrete so that there is space for life. Without the strong little roots reaching deeper, the water wouldn't have the cracks to reach deeper, and without the water and ice breaking those cracks further, the roots couldn't reach so far in.

And sometimes, I wonder how the rock must feel, being worn down by the water and the living roots to make more space for life. There are the Rockies, majestic, strong, and tall, broken very little yet. I hope I will see them later this year when I head West for a vacation with my dad before he is deployed again. And then, there are the Appalachians, ancient, worn enough to accomodate the rich life that fills them, cris-crossed by creeks, runs, rivers, ravines, lakes, and, of course, morning fog. I can close my eyes, some days, and find myself looking out over the hill I was raised on, thinking about nights spent outside, watching the stars and the bats, and mornings spent watching the sun come up over the fog-filled valley, listening to the birds waking up, and the rabbits heading for our garden. (Why is it that rabbits would eat the lettuce, which I also liked, and leave the beans, which I hated, alone?)*

And I ask myself how new space is being created within me. What in me needs to soften, to open up to new life? What needs to remain firm, so that that life doesn't slip away in the first storm? And also, I ask, how can I be like the grass, reaching up for the light, reaching down, to open up new possibilities for others? How can I be like the water, nourishing those around me, flowing together into the whole?

* Yes, I'm aware that the Rockies also have quite a lot of life in them - a fact inevitably pointed out in histories of the Donner tragedy. (Apparantly, most of the group were in fact right next to a lake filled with fish, but they didn't recognize the food sources available to them from hunting and gathering, thinking only of their lost livestock and severely depleted food stores.) But the Appalachians have worn down enough to be a lot more comfy for life.


Blogger ef (Pam) said...


the "theme" of quaker gathering this year (see somewhere on "friend after fifty years" blog about how I disapprove of "themes" in general) is

"Swimming in Living Waters"

Which was quite apt for me because if I have a representation of 'god' that works for me if would be water.

and yet, i guess, I didn't feel like I was.

There were lots of messages about actual water in the first worship that I went to, and someone stood up and talked about how "living water" was a metaphor for the power of god and we were in danger of losing track of what we are really talking about here (of course he said it better!)

and I was a little struck. It's not that way for me. Swimming is the closest I've come to experiencing God. No fooling. Maybe water as a metaphor for God works because it IS so powerful - God is so amazing, and huge, and life giving and amazing it's like, it's like, water - how can bits of scripture or chanting or ritual hold a candle to that??

water is life is god, life is god is water, god is water is life, where to draw the line?

Thanks for your post!


7/12/2006 3:37 PM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

When I was a competitive swimmer, I used to love practice. Not that I was one of the fast ones, especially at first. Other swimmers would swim carefully timed and orchestrated drills. I would swim a mile or so, trying to keep up with everyone else, but mostly in my own world. You see, most of my teammates were sprinters. I was in there for the long races. Other swimmers might tire of the pace, swim swim swim swim swim, turn! swim... but for me, it was contemplative time. I would look over my homework before practice and usually had it straight in my head by the first quarter of practice, then the rest of the swim was mine. As my muscles strained at the pace set, my mind was free to think whatever thoughts I cared to think.

Sometimes, I thought about books I'd been reading; other times, about the argument I'd been in or the way I thought I should have handled something better. And some occasions were just about the embrace of the water, the rhythm of breath, powering my kick from the hip, rotating the shoulders, falling into the perfect motion for moving through the water. There were times when I would be doing the backstroke and master the trick of breathing through a thin film of water covering my face so that I maintained the proper racing form. I loved that part, when all thought slipped away with the water, and I could just be.

When I went to the mikveh, the Jewish ritual bath, it was incredible - one of the requirements of a mikveh is that the water be "living" - that is flowing and from a naturally flowing source - the ocean, a river, rain, a spring, that kind of thing. When I finally emerged from the third immersion, I practically shouted the chanted blessing, which certainly surprised the woman in charge of running it.

7/12/2006 9:27 PM  

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