Air temperature 59 degrees and I’m standing around in my bathing suit on the pool deck. I have the place to myself today, no surprise. The snorkel guy, the sidestroker, the two I call the Tsunami Sisters who eat up the pool with their dolphin kicks—they’ve taken their swimming inside for the season. It’s just me and the clouds and the sun and the shadows. And the passing rain. And the pool itself, a turquoise gem this afternoon. The raindrops stipple its surface and I make a joke, say to myself, Better get in before you get wet, and in I go.
The pool is somewhere between 79 and 82 degrees, so if I stay underwater and keep moving I’m warm enough. But I’m a mammal, an air-breather, though when I dream about swimming, as I often do, I can go without air forever. My face and arms are chilly as I swim the laps that bring me to a mile, and today the wind is up. The trees around the pool are bending, their leaves quaking, and a fleeting pattern of disturbance flits across the water.
I wear ear plugs to keep the pool out. There’s joy in a silent world and my eyes get sharper. I swim for the pleasure of the movement, for the enveloping touch of the water, but maybe most of all because I find pools so darn beautiful. Their color, their ability to hold and reflect light, their undulation that reminds me of a large body swaying, swaying and embracing. Sometimes I paddle along, my eyes right at the waterline, so I can see both the world above and the world below. I can feel the world of air on my back and the wet world of water on my belly. I can’t say why but bridging those elements, even for a moment, makes me happy. The world of limbs and lungs meets the world of fins and gills. Unchambered is the feeling. A floaty lightness.
There’s a spot a few inches above the bottom of the pool where you can feel weightless. It’s a different flavor of weightless than the kind you find on the water’s surface. This is dreamlike, a feeling of needing no breath, no movement, no job, no family. It’s a place without human things in it, no human needs or wants or concerns. I go there every time I get in the pool, and recently I’ve come to understand it may be a dress rehearsal for death. It may be a place where we can let go—of everything. Of body and mind. Of all that we desire, everything we set our sights on, and everywhere our ambition leads us. It is an absolutely peaceful place. Is this why we swim? To stay close to this peaceful place? A few inches above the bottom is where you’ll find it, the sweet spot where we are able to die, where death isn’t other anymore. The elements that cluster and clog us with joy or sorrow, they’re gone, and what’s left is what we’ve always thought of as death, a foreign land, a separate entity, but in fact it’s just what remains when the things that make us us are no longer there.
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