meditation in a clubhouse pool (“because water stings and heals, and I sting and heal, and we are all stinging and healing”)
The pool, empty. In the evening glow, the ceiling light reflects perfectly upon the still water, casting a mild iridescence to the chlorine blue, the gentle brown walls and stone floor. Outside the window, the night is soft, all firebug and cicada croak, but inside, the pool is softer, safer even.
When I sing in the hot tub, the water burning against my skin, it is my best and only defense against a world that terrifies. The words are insignificant, meaningless almost; what matters are the tiny melodies bouncing off the water and the walls like human perseverance in the midst of ghettos and gelato, all that sears with heaviness or insubstantiality, the notes doing their best not to touch the ground, lava, stay afloat in the water, keep your chin up, kid, you’ll be all right, it’ll be all right.
I pray in the pool as a small act of atonement for the easy words stretching themselves across impossible canvasses of grief and tragedies. See, praying in my room, on top my bed, on my knees in the forgiving carpet, I pray with only my lips. The prayers fall too casually from my mouth, while my limbs rest easy, glad they have not been asked to join in. But in the pool, when I swim laps, I feel the burn of weariness in all my muscles, the gasping need to breathe, oxygen, lungs straining, the water resistant, making me work for each movement—and it is here, in this labor, that I force myself not just to pray but to become a prayer. A for Amsterdam, with its costly freedom; B for Brett Foster’s family; I for ISIS, S for Sue and her loss; each lap becomes fifteen seconds of intercession, a confession of love, or wanting to love, or wanting to want to love, the names an oasis of flesh and blood I cannot touch except by the running stream of words in my mind while arms and legs pump for the distant wall. For the ones I miss. For the ones who miss. For the ones we keep missing. I swim a prayer for you. I swim human for you. Come, be baptized and new and human.
The pool, empty. Here I learn not so much how to be brave but how to be real, not how to pray but how to become a prayer, not how to believe but how to doubt well. There are such real fears outside this quiet room with its safe luminescence and loneliness that does not choke, so many splinters upon my skin that no amount of digging through words can remove, but here at least the slivers of trauma start to curve out, gain weight, ripen into something harvestable. You don’t have to stop being afraid. You don’t have to feel real, not yet. It is enough sometimes just to remember that you are more than what you perceive of your own existence. That you can also perceive others, in small strokes of suffering-with, and maybe the song you were singing somebody else knows, somebody else whispers, and you, too, are a letter in the alphabet of prayers, though you are not the alpha nor omega, not the beginning nor the end, and so let go, kid, let go and float on your back in the quiet of the pool and be comforted in your smallness, smallness so big as to hold in rent even one letter of the poem at all.