March 1, 2017
One of my earliest memories is sprinting across the yard in front of the old, white farmhouse I grew up in, dodging the cold water as my great-grandmother held her thumb over the end of the water hose, aiming right for me and my cousins. The water, still freezing from it’s time underground in the well in the backyard, fell on hot skin, warmed from the searing summer sun, and we squealed in delight. The water droplets rained down on us, bringing relief from the heat, as my great-grandma Wallace chuckled from her lawn chair. Water brings joy.
I went with my family to Kelley’s Island on Lake Erie every single summer from the time I was an infant until I was 16, which was the first year I had to stay home because high school tennis tryouts were that week. I still remember how the lakewater mist felt on my face as I hung over the railing of the ferry that took us from the Ohio mainland to the island. For me, the lake separated reality from where the magic lived. This island hid unknown paths through the woods, undiscovered treasures on the beach, and magic in every corner. Every year, I would plunge into the water, unaware of the increasing bacteria levels and not paying any attention to the algae across the surface. The murky water hid the creatures that swam with us, but we pointed across the coastline, screaming about mermaids, and it revealed to me the power of imagination. Water hides magic.
There are two ponds on my family’s farm, but we were only allowed to swim in one of them. With each passing year, the water levels lower and the pond itself shrinks, exposing the frogs and the mud in which they live. I used to swim in the one in my backyard with my friends in the summer and skate on it when it froze over in the winter. My dad would test the ice carefully before my siblings and I would charge onto it, sliding across the frozen water, falling every few feet. If we were lucky, my dad would put the “ice tires” on the motorcycle, which prevented the tires from slipping and sliding out of control, and pull us behind him on a sled. Still to this day, that’s one of the most exhilarating sensations I’ve ever experienced. Water brings people together.
In middle school, my best friend and I decided to join the local summer swim team. With the intention of getting ready for the high school swim team in the coming years, we excitedly jumped all in (literally). As I learned each stroke, the practices got longer and more intense as I improved my technique, built my endurance, and stoked my passion for the sport. There were mornings I showed up and dove in head-first, ready for anything my coach asked of me, and there were other mornings I dragged myself out of bed and tested the freezing water with my toes, refusing to get in until my coach shoved me from behind straight into the deep end. There were days I loved swimming more than I ever knew I could love a sport and there were days I wondered when I would stop putting myself through such torture – but still, I showed up. Water teaches discipline.
When I was 16 years old, I signed up for a Lifeguard class at the local pool. I remember thinking that I had been competitively swimming for years and I was confident that I would be able to learn the material necessary to pass the course. This was the first time I realized that water is not joyful and magical to everyone. This was the first time I realized that water sometimes presented serious danger. I spent a week practicing the skills I was learning in order to perform the different types of water saves, first aid, and CPR for when things don’t go as planned in the water and I passed the course. I spent the next eight years keeping people safe there. Water demands respect.
I’ve always loved the rain. At 8, I danced across the horse pasture with my best friend in the rain. At 10, I refused to stop riding my dirtbike when the rain started pouring down. At 12, I stayed in the tiny pool in the backyard of my pastor’s house with his daughter in the rain until we heard thunder. At 14, I found solace in the rain as I hid with my notebook and pens in the one-room cabin my grandpa built back in the woods. At 16, I praised the rain because it meant there would be less people at the pool that day, which meant less work for the lifeguards and more time to spend pretending to clean while chattering incessantly. At 18, I wandered around my new college campus in the gray rain, searching for direction for my life. At 20, I prayed the rain would come on the days I spent 12 hours working in the inpatient psychiatric hospital because I wanted to enjoy the sun on my days off. At 22, I hoped the rain would come on the days I was not at the hospital because my idea of an enjoyable day off was curling up on the couch in my tiny apartment with a good book and an endless supply of hot tea, watching the raindrops roll down the windows.
Today, at 24, I smile at the rain because it means quiet. This morning, I ran through the rain to my car, splashing through puddles, arriving at work in soaked scrubs and with cold feet – and I stopped for a few seconds outside just to feel the rain on my face. Water brings clarity.