I’ve often wondered what it feels like to drown.
Certainly, the swimmer begins the day hopeful and happy. The beach is beautiful, the sea is calm. What fun this will be! What a perfect place to swim! The sunlight glints off little waves and everything seems to sparkle. Out into the water dives our swimmer. The day is full of promise and she is buoyant in the water. She swims circles in the sea, thrilling with the feel of the water on her skin, the way she can cup it in her hands or spread her fingers and let it run through. In the sea she will find joy today. She bobs along the surface, splashing playfully at the waves.
Suddenly, a larger wave slaps her in the face. Surprised, she fights her way back to the surface, gasping and sputtering. Regaining her breath, she looks about herself. The sun still glints off the waves, the morning is still warm. Though the big wave was unexpected, she has survived it. It was a one time kind of wave, most likely, and probably won’t happen again. Besides, even if another big wave comes, she has learned from dealing with the first one. She won’t be caught off guard again. She is still a good swimmer. The beach is still beautiful, the sea is still good.
Again as she plays, a larger wave catches her by surprise and buries her under the water for a few moments. Again she struggles for equilibrium and finds it. Again she tells herself that she has learned how to avoid big waves. Again she returns to the joy of swimming and the sea.
The water becomes rougher and a roller wave catches her by the hair and drags her under. This time when she surfaces, her skin feels raw, as if the water had scraped her. She begins to doubt. Perhaps she is not as good a swimmer as she thought. Perhaps she learns too slowly how to swim over waves. Perhaps one cannot learn to swim over waves. She is treading water now, tired from struggling to stay above the water.
How cruel of the sea, we could say, that it continues to push her down, the way it sucks her down as soon as she falters. But the sea is not cruel. The sea means no harm. The sea is merely what it is, which is the sea. Relentless the crushing waves roll in. Relentless the water pushes against her arms and legs. Relentless, though she is tired. The sea is what it is. The sea means no harm. The waves swell and the waves roll.
Though she is no longer enjoying her day, our swimmer continues to move, continues to hold her head above the water. Now when she falters and the waves push her down, she struggles to reach the surface not to reclaim joy, but only to keep hold of life. Life is precious. Survival is what she struggles for now. The sea is what it is. The sea means no harm. The waves swell and the waves roll. The waves eat away time. The waves eat away her.
What I wonder is
when her head goes under the water for the last time, does she believe that this is only another temporary setback? Does she believe she will return to the surface again?
Or does she know the end when it comes? Does she know she has drowned even before the water buries her?