Monday, July 8, 2024

Swimming in Grief

I'm swimming laps again this summer, as I've done for many years now, early in the morning, as exercise and meditation. I swim in the pool where I took swimming lessons and did water ballet as a child. After the first few lessons, when she watched us and/or read a book, my mother often dropped us off and picked us up, wet, later. Lately, swimming has helped me stay calm, rehearse things I have to do later in the day, let go of everything, and grieve. It's eight months since my mother died, and it surprises me how fresh the grief may be, in tiny moments, and insistent, like rain.

I am also reading a lot, and reading the right book at the right time. Today, I found The Swimmers, by Julie Otsuka, and it's, of course, perfect. There's a woman in it named Alice, with mild dementia. "And even though she may not remember the combination to her locker or where she put her towel, the moment she slips into the water she knows what to do." This fits with what I just learned in Remember, by Lisa Genova, about how and what we remember. 

So far The Swimmers seems to be in a community voice, a "we" voice. "And when we are finished with our laps we hoist ourselves up out of the pool, dripping and refreshed, our equilibrium restored, ready to face another day on land." While I don't hoist myself up--I swim over to a ladder--I agree with all the rest of this! And, in keeping with water ballet, I am again awake to the synchronities of life and in my reading.

I'm reading The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu for the non-fiction book group at the library, about saving ancient manuscripts, and I just read (or re-read, as I think I read it as a teen, or part of it) Out of Africa, by Isak Dinesen, for the adult reading challenge, where July = Africa. I'm aware of the irony of reading two books about Africa by white writers. At least I had already read some others on the list and the display by Black or African authors. With Out of Africa, I was consciously seeking out the author's voice to see 1) why this book is considered her masterpiece 2) what colonialism it carries in tone. Yes, the colonialism is there, along with a deep love and respect for the country and its peoples, and its animals, even the ones she shot. I was comforted when she moved past killing them to watching them.

Contemplating the Africa theme, I'd thought I'd like to learn more about Mali, as my parents housed a young man from Mali several years ago when he came to the United States to get his undergraduate and graduate degrees. He is still a family friend. Timbuktu is in Mali, so yay! I am learning a lot. I can ask if he's read this book in my next letter!

It surprised me--but why, given all the synchronicity lately? and the "plot," as I knew she would be leaving the continent--to find this in Out of Africa, which resonated with the loss of my childhood home: "In this way began for me a strange era in my existence on the farm. The truth, that was underlying everything, was that it was no longer mine, but such as it was, this truth could be ignored by the people incapable of realizing it, and it made no difference to things from day to day. It was then, from hour to hour, a lesson in the art of living in the moment, or, it might be said, in eternity, wherein the actual happenings of the moment make but little difference." This sounds like the emotional denial I witnessed in my dad, and the strange near numbness I sometimes felt, but I was most struck by the living-in-the-moment connection, for that is how I grieved and am still grieving, disconnected from linear time, and from my former self, but, yes, in the moment.

I go back to the moment of swimming. And to this line from The Swimmers: "The moment I see that painted black line I feel fine."

OK, and also this moment! Lola in the water. Eight months old and crawling. In love with her parents and with the world. Always in the moment!

Constantly countering my grief is my joy, from the moment Lola entered the world and my mother left it.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful writing and reading. Keep swimming!

Basel A said...

Tender, sensitive and poignant as always dear friend.

Anonymous said...

Love your voice in all things Kathleen. I am sitting vigil with my mom right now and she is peaceful and resting, for which I am grateful. Africa—books I have loved “Things fall apart” by Chinua Achebe and “The poisonwood bible” by Barbara Kingsolver, which I am sure you have read already, but both so powerful. I love Lisa Genova too. Thanks for writing and hugs to you. Barb

Marion Boyer said...

I really am so glad to read your blog. I love your writing. Thank you so much. I too swim laps. I am swimming more often these days as a lovely respite from caring for my husband who is going through mid stages of Alzheimer's. He is okay if I am away for a few hours in the afternoons and that gives me the luxury of getting into the water and feeling peaceful.
Thank you!

Marion Boyer