Joie dans le froid
My feet aren’t cold; this always surprises me.
I don’t step further forward just yet. I’m inward for a moment; before comes the cold, my gut is filled with uncertainty. It greets me on the beach, like an old friend stopping by under the guise of seeing me off. It’s really cold this time, she leans closer and whispers in my ear, you sure you’re going in? Isn’t it always really cold, I ask? Point taken, she says, what are you waiting for then?
I look down, and smile at the water swirling up around my feet. It’s frigid, almost frozen this time, nipping coyly at my ankles. I don’t mind, we like this playing this game. Head in, she says, water looks fine today.
Eyes up, feet forward, I walk out briskly to meet where the water turns dark. I stand and wait, letting the cold wash over my hips. This is always the hardest part, she says, you know this. True, I say, now go away. Please. I need to focus.
My skin turns chilly, but jubilation makes itself known, I can feel it welling upwards, drowning out the uncertainty. I’m excited now; this might be the best swim yet, I tell myself, each time might always be the best one yet. I splash my face, my arms, my chest. Let the brain tell the body, cold is coming, cold is coming. I don’t wait any longer.
I drop down slowly, water leaping up eagerly to cover my shoulders. It is really cold this time, is this the coldest yet? I shudder sharply, my chest contracts. Quick controlled breaths, you’re fine, just wait it out, it only takes a minute.
Ready, I push forward, my feet lifting off the sandy floor. Icy water rushes past my shoulders and rolls across my back. My breathing is still tight, but I swim, turning my head carefully not to take in water. I stroke hard to jumpstart the engine. My hands are swinging madly through the air, then water, then air, but my legs trail quietly behind. It always takes them a bit to join in the fun, one can only focus on so many things at once, cold can be so very distracting. They do lift, awakened, and start gently kicking. Wow, I say, feeling amazed, the water feels pretty fine today after all…
I’m calm now, here the swim begins. Stroke, stroke, breathe. I can feel my hands breaking water’s surface but I don’t hear anything, it’s so very quiet when it’s cold. With each breath to the side, I can see sunlight streaming through clouds, warmth swept away by chill winds but it’s bright and invites me to linger there each breath a moment longer. So I accept, I pause, I glide, filled with feeling. I smile when I swim, I noticed this about myself some time ago. I think of Ederle – I am here, my limbs firmly grounded by searing cold, but I’m no longer of this world. I’ve left this place for somewhere else, I’m the sun, I’m solitude, I’m gliding, water gently rushing over my back. The rest of the world around me fades at the edges, just for awhile.
Why cold? After the jubilation comes elation. The pause, the glide.
This moment alone is worth it.
“When we’re in the water, we’re not of this world.”, G. Ederle