Wrapped in a brightly coloured towel, I eye the Atlantic apprehensively. The wind whips around me, its haunting voice taunting me about my probable madness at wanting to swim in this weather. My skin is raised in the goose bumps that ingeniously serve to trap air between my body hairs in order to keep me insulated and warm. But I don’t feel warm. I’m bloody freezing.
Impulsively, I throw down the towel and hurry towards the ocean. I know from experience that inching my way in will only prolong the suffering so I submerge myself quickly and front crawl vigorously towards the horizon. It takes a while for the numbness to subside but, when it does, I thoroughly enjoy the feeling of my body bobbing in the ocean, my fingers threading through the soft water, the view of the rich, green fields, chiselled cliffs, the brilliant white of the spitting waves, and the knowing that, even if my phone rings, I won’t hear it from out here in the centre of a pollock hole. I tilt my head back in the golden path of sunlight that dapples over the surface of the water.
A child in goggles gazes at the world below. His kicking feet splash me slightly. An elderly man dives in and swims determinedly in my direction. As he passes, the small waves he has generated elbow me gently across the jaw. I keep going. I am swimming through the ripples created by other people, by the wind, by the ocean, and by myself. I am in the ocean and I am part of it. I remember that a significant amount of the human body is made up of water. I am in it and it is in me. And we are all part of the same.
Afterwards, I am so grateful that I went for that swim despite my hesitation. It reminds me of the time I almost hadn’t gone to the cinema with a couple of people I barely knew. Since then, I have had lots of fun with one of those people, who has become one of my best friends. I look back at that moment of doubt whenever I consider not doing something just because I’d rather the safe option.
Later, as I settle down to read Gregory David Roberts’ Shantaram, I come across these words of Johnny Cigar, an Indian slum dweller:
“Our life, it probably began inside of the ocean about four thousand million years before now… Then, a few hundred million years ago… just a little while, really, in the big history of the Earth – the living things began to be living on the land, as well. But in a way you can say that after leaving the sea… we took the ocean with us. When a woman makes a baby, she gives it water, inside her body, to grow in. That water inside her body is almost exactly the same as the water of the sea. It is salty, by just the same amount. She makes a little ocean, in her body. And not only this: Our blood and our sweating, they are both salty, almost exactly like the water from the sea is salty. We carry oceans inside of us, in our blood and in our sweat. And we are crying the oceans, in our tears.”
And so, this is life. What we fear and dread outside of ourselves is just as much inside of us. And while that scary thing that we must plunge into, without thinking too much about the possible consequences and unpleasantness, can be difficult and painful, it can also be beautiful, rewarding and so worthwhile. And that too comes from within.