A couple of months ago, on a beautiful weekend away with a dear friend in Donegal, I read this:
‘A sixteen year old boy… tells me in a session, about the moment, at the age of ten, when he eventually learnt to swim after being terrified of water.: “I knew I was safer out of my depth because even though I couldn’t stand, there was more water to hold me up.”‘
It’s from a book called On Kissing, Tickling & Being Bored – Psychoanalytic Essays on the Unexamined Life by Adam Phillips, a book which I largely did not understand at all. But this quote from the middle of a story about someone who was afraid to swim struck a cord for me, because I too didn’t learn to swim until I was older, and I have difficulty feeling safe when I’m out of my depth. The trick to swimming is trusting that you can float.
Maybe this is cheesy, but I’ve felt out of my depth a lot the past few months. You know that overwhelming sensation that you’re just about keeping your head above water, but that if you don’t keep frantically kicking and splashing, you will drown? Inevitably you discover that after a while you can’t keep kicking, and then you find that life does actually go on without all your manic action. You can float. You are not the be all and end all, and there is something greater going on beyond you.
So this is the blogpost that I’ve had in my mind to write for a couple of weeks. And then on Sunday afternoon I heard that a friend of mine had died, unexpectedly.
In service that morning at my church, the sermon was all about the New Year, and going forward into it with hope. The preacher read the beginning of a poem by Minnie Louise Haskins:
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
All of a sudden, just a few hours later, these words seemed awfully poignant.
We cannot ever know what is ahead of us. And we are always out of our depth. But I am trying to learn that I am not omnipotent; to trust that I am safer out of my depth and not in control. Learning to float is making peace with the fact that time and chance happen to us all.