After two months and one week of absence (yes, I was counting) I returned to the sea on the morning of June 8th 2020. Oh the joy and what joy! The longing had been building over the previous months. I was like an impatient and increasingly fractious child awaiting Christmas. There is something about being buoyed up by the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, immersed in the cold collective depths that settles me. There was quite a lot of ‘settling’ to be done. Settling on so many scores.
John’s anniversary (a day which saw me being able to be gentle with myself) found me sitting under a scorching hot sun and a clear blue sky, drinking copious amounts of tea and thinking many, many thoughts about him and the people he loved. My family (and especially my husband) doing that inconspicuous caring that can be easy to take for granted. I had a delivery of brownies to my garden from my good friend Mary. I think John would have approved, his sweet tooth would have found them hard to resist and he would have relished the good weather. A continued spell of warm dry weather in Ireland, always something worthy of a conversation or four. A socially-distanced walk up the laneway with two small people whose lifeforce is a joy to engage with and their Mammy Michelle. I planted a climbing rose which another friend Pat had bought for me in remembrance of John. It had taken me nigh on two years to find the perfect spot for it. My criteria for the perfect spot were nebulous. I was so reluctant to put it in the ground, unable to make a decision and worried that I’d plant it wrong and it would die. I wanted to plant it on a significant date with some quiet ceremony so I would remember the planting, but I had missed planting it on John’s last birthday in October, for reasons I can no longer remember. The kernel being though that I wasn’t ready.
During Covid 19, I have fallen more in love with our mountain space, our wilderness of a garden, our two and five kilometer wider surroundings; our wild flowers, gates for opening, unfurling ferns, stony sculptures, falling down houses, hidden water spots and lush carpets of moss which have been sources of daily joy.
Our ancestral family are of this place going back three or four generations. My own Dad being born maybe 8 miles from where I now live. My brother John’s love of the outdoors has its roots here, passed down by our Dad in the same way our love of the sea was. I have so many happy memories of John being actually here, in what has become my children’s home place. I can close my eyes and wish him strolling in my gates. Sitting in my garden, the space was big enough to hold my grief. My sea dancing for two would come.
I have previously written in my cream hard back that
"the clean crisp Atlantic Waters scorch my skin with cold, injecting beats into the heart of my days, grounding me while I'm all at sea in the daily machinations of my life"
I do also like the sea when it’s not freezing, but maybe not as much. Let’s be honest; there no maybe about it. Warm water is a much rarer occurrence around the Irish coast and I’m not sure what I’d do with the experience. I missed the warmer swimming conditions in May and the first week of June due to Covid 19 travel restrictions. “It was like bath water”, I have been reliably informed, maybe as high as 15 degrees. The return to cooler weather and much cooler seas means I have the joy and the work of getting acclimatised again. On the bright side it doesn’t feel as if I’ve missed out on over two full swimming months and water temperatures will rise again as the summer passes.
Being encapsulated in the ocean is like grasping and holding onto a moonbeam of time condensed into a viscous velvety sphere of peace. Past, present and somewhere beyond the moment of now all collide and co-exist in its refracted drops. Breaking the surface tension of the water, the ripples dance and weave all around me. There are hidden depths to us all.
My breathing is audible but yet small in the symphony of sea sounds. There is a soft sea silence, a stillness that comes with being immersed in the water. A continuum of small droplets with an abundance of invisible ions, whose vastness is immense and indefinable. It can feel beyond my ‘ken’ and yet some of that indefatigable vastness remains visible on my skin in the form of perfect and minute glistening sea beads. They cling to my exterior, the benefits being absorbed by osmosis beyond surface levels, journeying to my interior thus continuing the ocean’s restorative work well after I emerge. Exhilarated by my encounter and with my salty veneer of protection I can venture on.
Sometimes, it feels as if the sea just cleanses me of the parts of the day or parts of the previous days, weeks or more recently corona months that need leaving behind. In a way I cannot fathom, they are released stroke by stroke, or they are washed away with no effort on my part to be carried even further out to sea as I barely tread water. All I have to do is be brave enough to keep getting in.
More often than not the sea opens my mind to what is of the moment and promises something for somewhere beyond the moment of now. I think in the sea. I speed think without thinking at all. It is like a great knowing. The sea, the cold and the touch of it, not just on my skin but also in my being compels a loosening of the reckoning of my wants and an increased awareness and focused understanding of my needs. An unconscious re-ordering occurs on the most subliminal of levels. A clarity abounds about the achievable and the impossible. I make peace with my yearnings.
The sea’s complete indifference to my state of being grants a generous freedom to just be. Submerged in the water, there is no pressure to be other. It is an intimate relationship, complex but not complicated. It encompasses so much more than my physical interaction with the water. I would like to point out that I am a slow swimmer with one stroke and a glide in my repertoire, with no technical expertise in the water. It’s a beautiful and involved relationship that connects with my heart and mind and spirit.
The sea takes no notice of my inadequacies at all. In the water, I am more than the sum of my parts. The vagaries of the sea and the ever-changing palette of light and colour mimic my many moods. The wide-open seascape spaces around me in the Waterford coastline (but in particular the Guillamenes) consistently seem to deliver what I need on any given visit, even on those days when permission to enter the water is denied.
When I re-read much of my earlier writings after John’s death, my attempts to describe the actuality of my grief rely on so many sea references. “Waves of grief, bracing against a tide of grief, feeling all at sea” are words that flowed from me to the page. I remember being panic-stricken in those early sleep-deprived months. I couldn’t bring John to mind as I couldn’t picture him or hold a sense of him or his being anywhere except at the sea.
"My salt water tears bring me back to the ocean I can see you there."
That panic has subsided. But still without doubt my connection and thalassic love affair is bound with my love for my brother and my Dad. It is good to be back. Sea dancing for two. Keeping my head above water.