I am a lucky fish. My family belongs to a parcel of land on the eastern shore of a large mountain lake. (We belong to it; it belongs to us--the distinction here is often blurry. Land owning in a place that wants to be wild is tough business; there are grasses to cut, critters to herd away, silt and sand to be filtered clean. But this is not a post about land owning; that's a post for another day. This is a post about precipices.) I have been going to this lake every summer and long weekend in between since I was just a bean in my mother's womb, and before that even, since I was just an idea, an unknown life. I have been going to this place, and letting it heal me in minute or momentous ways for a very long time. Each time I go, summer fall winter spring, I have a deep desire to let the lake water do its healing work; heal me heal me heal me I whisper, keening. Help me help me help me. Help me get done what needs to get done. Forgive him. Forgive her. Forgive me. Help me to be a better daughter, sister, friend, human being. I assume that because I am where I am, praying where I'm praying, that my simple requests carry more weight, and will be somewhat heard, somehow. The earth and the water are purer in this place, so my thoughts seem purer. At the hour of every departure, we each make one final visit to the water, together or in turn, and send out our final requests: take care of this place. Take care of us. Take care of those we love. Give us strength, and courage, and heart. I have a habit of closing my eyes and listening as hard as I can listen, trying to memorize the sound of the waves against the rocks. If I can carry this sound with me, I think, then I will be safe.
I was at this lake just a few days ago. I was standing waist deep in its clear water. At this time of year, that water is still cold, but warm enough for swimming. Our place is a simple place; we don't have a boat with a motor or a dock that stretches out far enough for diving. When we get in the water to swim, we do so gingerly and with devotion, feeling our way across the clean rocks and letting ourselves get deeper, deeper, until we're ready to make the final plunge and duck under. It takes a bit of bravery, this ducking under, even on the hottest of days. The water takes us in slowly, and as much as we say how nice it would be to simply take a running jump and just get it over with, I think we take a silent pleasure in the way we do things, in our slow immersion. The slowness is a kind of respect--for the lake, for the division between our bodies. As we walk slowly in, we are asking the lake to accept us. Take me in, we ask. And it does, time and again. And when we are waist deep, on the precipice of the plunge, it asks something of us. Come in, it says silently. This is the tough part. This is the part that demands bravery; a gulp of air, an expansion of chest and lungs and heart, a letting go of all thought except this: I'm going under.
Under you go. There is the startling cold of the water and tingling skin and the rushing sound of your own body getting swallowed up. Nothing else matters, but this. And then up, up, up towards the light (you can see it through the fine delicate skin of your eyelids, through the fine delicate skin of the water) and you breath in again, you are alive again, you are in a new place. You've crossed the precipice.
When I left the lake this time, I began a new tradition. I didn't close my eyes and listen as I've always done. Instead, I tried to memorize the feeling of going under. I would want to remember this feeling on other days, during dark moments when I can quite literally see beyond my own darkness, but am too afraid or caught or stupidly devoted to cross the precipice in front of me. I would want to remember that there is no easy way to go under, or over, the divide between what is and what can be; there is no easy way, there's only going. Gulp of air, expansion of chest and lungs and heart, a letting go of all thought. Except this: I'm going.
Go out slowly into the water, into the life, you want. There is nothing wrong with timidity, with tenderness. But when you reach the precipice, when your wanting fills you, go under. Do not be afraid. There is so much to be found on the other side.
Thanks for reading.