On the first day of Girl Power this summer, we asked the girls to share a few things about themselves during their introductions including what they most love to do. Play soccer, ride horses, go tubing were some of their answers.
As the circle made it’s way around to me, it occurred to me that while we had planned these questions, I hadn’t come up with my answer before we rounded the circle. And so I had no idea what I’d say.
“My name is Rosie. I love ice cream, and my favorite thing to do is… ride water.”
Really? I thought for a second. Not read? Not write? Not paint? Not sit in a hammock and be responsible for no one or nothing? And then there was this absolute interior voice answering me. Really!
My skepticism was natural. I am not a swimmer. I learned how to swim in my mid-30s when a friend and I signed up for adult swim lessons together. We weren’t great- no fancy pool flips here- but we were dedicated and, together, we were invincible- two slower gals getting their swim on as we shared a lane and caught our breath at the end of each lap (wait, does a lap indicate two lengths of the pool? If so, then we caught our breath after each length). So, you sometimes hear the metaphor about a person that he or she is a fish. I guarantee that you will never hear that metaphor about me. And that must have been where that flicker of doubt came from after I answered the question at Girl Power Camp.
But then I considered the evidence, and truth be told, other than the fact that I am not a graceful swimmer, I’m a water baby. I discovered kayaking in college and LOVED it– both the thrill of dashing through white water (although I ended up upside down and outside of my boat a lot) and the peace of gliding through still waters. Jet skiing in my early 30s was an adrenaline ride. At a water park, I’m the girl who disappears down the lazy river, my intertube carrying me in circles for hours. At the beach, I pine between two desires: sitting in the ocean, legs immersed, while reading a book or riding the waves during a surf lesson. One year, I bought BF a kayak for Christmas. I was thrilled with this gift. BF? Not so much. As it turns out, I wanted the kayak, not him. Another year, I arranged our summer vacation around seeing whales off the coast of Maine. I’ve lost all sense of time kayaking in the ocean. There is a small lake near my house and, every now and again, I see someone kayaking on it at daybreak or dusk. The way I long to switch places with that person is telling. As it turns out, when I added up these pieces, I can see that I love water more than I would have naturally thought that I might since I spent so much of my early life landblocked (pool-locked, too).
As much as I’d like to think it was this lifetime of evidence that made me say, “ride water” at Girl Power camp, I know it wasn’t. As much as I want to say that I love to ride water for the thrill of it, it’s not that either. Just the week before camp, a group of friends and I skipped out on our Wednesday morning responsibilties and headed to the National Whitewater Center near our homes to try our hand at Stand Up Paddling. A hybrid of surfing and, hmm, kayaking, Stand Up Paddling (the cool kids say SUP) is done standing up on a surf-board like board while you propel yourself with a paddle. We all thought we’d get an instructor for our outing. Um, no. Which seemed like crazy talk to me. Instead, we got a stand up paddle board, a paddle, and the wise advice to start from a kneeling position, work on our balance there, and then stand up. That’s it.
As we drifted into the river, a bit of panic hit my belly. My friends are all more athletic and agile than I am. Was I going to hold them back with my own lack of coordination? Was I even going to be able to stand up? How much of this river was I going to drink when I fell in- repeatedly? That’s racket. And I can produce a fair amount of it if given the time and opportunity. My bet is that we all can.
But then a funny thing happened. I got in the lake. I knelt on my board. I felt the give and take of the board as it bobbled in the water. It seemed hard enough to kneel on it, much less think about standing. And so I decided to just paddle forward a bit. You’ll know when to stand, I told myself. After several minutes down the river, I was ready. Everything went silent, even the voice in my head. I put one foot down on the board, and then pushed myself to standing. And for a terrifying two minutes, it felt like I might go in from the right, then the left, then the right, no the back, no the front. I can’t do this; I can’t do this, and then, suddenly, I could do it. I was doing it. I was paddling. When my paddle proved too long, I adjusted it while standing on my board. I could talk to my friends without fear of falling into the river because of breaking my concentration. I had figured out how to do this impossible thing.
A bit down the river, the arches of my feet began to ache. I’m a girl who wears highly supportive shoes all day. My arches aren’t used to being unsupported; they are babied, if you will. What do I do, what do I do, what do I do? I thought and then again- silence and clarity. You kneel back down and paddle from there. Somehow, in one single motion, I went from standing to kneeling again and then for the rest of the trip around the island we circumnavigated, I moved between the two. Around me, the trees were gorgeous, my friends funny and kind, the day was good, the water melting the sun’s absurd heat. And in that space between being and doing was what I loved about riding water: a meditation and a movement, a way to be and a way to do, an opportunity to delight and an opportunity to grow. Riding water for me is the quintessential balance between what I love: stillness and experiencing.
I’m Rosie. I love ice cream. And riding water.
What do you love? What has it taught you?