Lately I have taken to floating—lying on my back in the bay and letting the water cradle me. It can be hard to make it to the beach, even in the heat of summer, as so many other stressors pull on our time. There are a lot who live on Nantucket that hardly ever get to the beach. As one neighbor said to me: “I live on an island—--the beach will always be there.”
I think of things in more uncertain terms, especially since each year it seems we lose more beachfront. I’ve been making a point to get into the water as much as I can, even to just to lie on my back and look at the sky.
Floating is closest most of us here on Earth will ever get to weightlessness. The tide is usually low when I head down to the beach, and I find myself floating in a few inches of water. Moon jellies and crabs waltz around me, enjoying the sun warmed sand. I try not to think about much of anything, just the sound of the waves in my ears.
Lying in the water like that, with your head semi-submerged, you hear things differently. You hear your breathing, rhythmic and resonate, like a heart beating. You hear the sound of sand swirling in the breaking waves, grains smashing into each other like champagne flutes clinking, although slightly more tinny, like hearing from very far away. It’s been a long time since I have been in the womb, but I imagine this experience to be similar.
My nephew, born just two months ago, must still remember his watery keep. Sometimes he can only be soothed by a loud SHHHHing sound, one my sister and her husband make with pursed lips. They SHHHing louder than his cries, trying to mimic the sound of the fluid-filled womb, like tiny tides comes in and out. I wonder if babies born by the sea cry less, because they hear the sound of waves more. When he is older, I will bring him to the shore. Maybe he will remember the sounds of water.
It was during one of my evening floats--I can hardly call them swims--down on the north shore of the island when folks from a nearby restaurant started spilling out onto the beach. The sky was hand-painted with pinks, oranges, and reds, a masterwork of a sunset. All the diners were attempting to capture the show with their cameras, dozens of hands and tiny screen raised westward, as if they were toasting the sun as it quickly slipped out below the horizon, and onto other parts of the world. No one was in the water but me, and emerged I moved through the crowd, dripping wet like some creature from the deep. They were dressed in resort-wear finery, this was no t-shirt crowd. I’m not sure anyone even saw me, as they seemed almost hypnotized by the setting sun.
There is so much that weighs on each of us. I will take these rare moments of weightlessness, no stress, at least, on the body, and hold tight to them, to lock away, to remind myself that with a little salt water, such a feeling of complete freedom is possible.