Squinting into the sunny distance I just catch a glimpse, a flash of silver, as the water runs off her skin and she dives beneath the waves once more ...
Ever since I was a girl I’ve had this little dare that I do.
I love swimming in the sea. Not for me the chlorine stink of the swimming pool.
I can’t wait to wade out into the water until the strip of sand and laughter on the shoreline is a shimmering haze in the distance.
I swim until my feet can just find the scrape of sand or pebble at the bottom.
And then I swim a little further still.
Just a couple of extra strokes… until there’s nothing underneath but the swoosh of deep, deep water.
It might not sound like much. This little dare of mine.
After all… it's never so far that the waves take on an ominous steel glint as they dip and ripple around me. I’m exhilarated, a little scared… yes. But I always know that I can swerve around at any moment and be comfortably back to shore when I need to.
I’ve been thinking about that recently and how it’s been preparing me, ever so gently, for the life I live now.
A Forbidden Love Affair
And today in my early morning train of thought it links to another of my favorite things- the film 'Brief Encounter."
I’m remembering a stage version I once saw of this heart wrenchingly romantic tale of a forbidden love affair between Laura, a bored suburban housewife, and the handsome doctor she meets every day at a train station.
Set just after the war in 1940's Britain all that longing had to simmer away in darkened station waiting rooms with soot on the walls and the steam of a rainy Autumn day on the window sill. All that passion was stuffed down under stiff British upper lips, buttoned down coats and sensible headscarves.
In the theatrical version they placed a film screen at the back of the stage.
Whilst the characters spoke through clipped tones and clicking tongues in train station waiting rooms everything that they couldn’t or wouldn’t say to each other was played out on the screen behind them, as their characters ran along a beach, carefree and delighted.
Here, Laura unburdened by headscarf or husband could gambol free - dipping into the foamy waves, coquettishly beckoning us to join her, diving again only to emerge breathless and laughing and shaking the droplets from her hair.
Our Wild and Selkie Self
The Directors notes in the programme spoke of this fascination she’d had with the old tale of the selkie - our mysterious seal lion self that whispers to us from the deep. This is old faerie folklore from the most northern parts of Scotland where the waters are clear and the sands are white. Here the selkie transforms into a maiden as she steps onto land by shedding her sealskin. A fisherman watching nearby steals her sealskin forcing her to stay with him and bear his children.
Split from her wildself she gradually loses the light in her eyes and the fire in her belly. Her skin becomes cracked and parched of life, until one day - she finds her sealskin, snatches it from its hiding place and runs joyously back into the arms of the waves. (NBThis tale of the selkie is brought wonderfully to life in one of my all time favourite life changing books - Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes check it out here.
I think of that show often.
How much do we button down and allow to simmer under the surface while somewhere out there in the far blue yonder is a girl swimming wide and free with, laughing and squinting out into the never never, beckoning back to us?
How much of our lives are spent ignoring her or telling her it’s too dangerous. Too far. Too scary.
I know how brilliantly careful I’ve been at pushing that girl away, only for her to come bubbling back up again demanding to be heard, demanding I give a voice to her passion. In a different form, a different way perhaps. The empty pang of depression, an inexplicable black rage that sidewalls me.
So why is it so hard to to listen sometimes?
I get it. It is scary.
There have been times where I’ve screwed my whole life up in a ball and chucked it into the metaphorical waste paper basket, Ive ended a relationship, started a new job and moved home all in the space of a weekend.
I told myself i am strong and tough and I can handle it.
But in honesty - it hurt.
Small Strokes and Stretch Marks
Somewhere along the line the fear of that pain returning made me a little less keen to step outside of my comfort zone. I’ve taken on too much and have the bruises and the metaphorical stretch marks to prove it.
But what I’ve learned since is there is an in between, a comfortable edge we can swim too.
We don’t need to dive out and deep until we can no longer see land. We don’t need to scare ourselves witless plowing so far out we’re surrounded by nothing but cawing gulls.
It just takes one extra stroke…a dare to push out a little further than we’re used to.
That leading edge between a place where our toes touch sand and the moment they push away into nothingness.
Let’s allow ourselves to fall out into those enchanted waters and graze fingertips with the girl that we know is out there - swimming wide and swimming free.
That’s where we’ll find her.
Swim wide and swim free sister.
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This tale of the selkie is brought wonderfully to life in one of my all time favourite life changing books - Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.
I truly consider it a must read for wander women everywhere!
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