I ease my body into this new body of water, the snap-and-go tub in our new home, 1000 miles from our last, the one under the cover of mountains.
And I remember how I’ve eased my aching body into bathtubs: the one they finally let me get into when I was being induced with my eldest son 8 years ago; the one in San Diego where I almost birthed our second, he came so fast; the one where I spent the night, almost falling asleep between contractions with the slow birth of our third son and lastly, the one in the hospital with jets that covered my aching back when laboring with our fourth little love.
I can feel the cool shock of the Pacific on the hot July days when I’d go out past the waves and feel them wash over me in my childhood. I’d feel like a small thing then, with the expanse of water and the darkness of the depths. I remember the chlorine of swimming pools after waterlogged summers and sodas and Abba Zabbas baking in the sun with my childlike limbs.
I’d thought that my space was to be wedded to the glory of mountains – my Salt Lake City mountains that changed with seasons, that left my jaw agape as I circled around the city in my minivan. Wasn’t it supposed to be the mountains? After all, it was mountains that made me break into the doxology when I took my four littles hiking in the summer to Cecret Lake.
It was supposed to be the mountains.
But instead I find myself, again, in water. It’s the same sun-kissed smell of suntan lotion on my children, the same bloodshot eyes from the pool I see reflected in their faces, their same thrill and laughter at the power of the sea.
And it’s water where I’ve found solace – that simultaneous sense of closeness, being wrapped and covered in water, and of infinite immensity, and my own smallness.
Back when I was studying for my Ph.D. and reading loads of eighteenth-century British immigration narratives, I always expected to find a treasure trove of writing about the sea. I mean, how could you not, when it took months to cross the Atlantic and you were writing with the express purpose of showing others how to immigrate? But there hardly ever was. It was as if the Atlantic were simply passed over, as if the huge body of water was simply a blank space to be crossed to get to the Promised Land. When it was written about, it was nearly comical in its aping of poetic tropes.
Maybe we’ve just made water – maybe we’ve just made most natural spaces – into places to be passed through, places that serve as vehicles instead of destinations. We’re always looking west, for gold. And maybe this “passing through” means we don’t notice, we don’t really see, because we’re so concerned with getting there that we forget here. And this forgetting? It’s as old as dirt.
My babies were birthed close to water. Now, my 19-month-old daughter – my last baby — throws herself almost indiscriminately into the pool with the wide-face joy that knows no fear. (It’s probably from all the aqua aerobics classes I took with her and the gray-haired Mormon ladies when she was swimming around in my belly. Feeling the movement, the rhythm, the muffled sounds and the tight embrace of water.)
It’s the joy of baptism there on her face as she jumps. That there is no apprehension, that there is just the becoming of something new and clean, again and again and again. She stretches out to me, her toes teetering on the edge, she jumps and pops up, thrilled. Water is simply her element. She jumps again and again, until my arms are tired and my sunglasses are spattered with drops of her joy.
The water may not invoke awe or glory and leave my mouth agape. It’s simply the stuff we swim in, and like home, feels rather familiar and not worth mentioning until we’ve gained some distance and returned. Water is a space that is so very normal, mundane to those of us to take our access to clean, potable water for granted. It’s such an earthy element, like bread and wine, and yet, it, too, in the Kingdom gets to put on a special dress and be transformed from an overlooked daily element to something regal. Water isn’t just a passing through into a greater reality, it’s also right where transformation happens.
So for the first time in a while I’m realizing that maybe it won’t be the mountains, maybe it will be water that will be hold space open for me.