Our theme for the month of October is “the elements.”

Ice moving, peaceful
Exalted but quiet
The chill and the sea
Hurl back memories

Seabound | Avalost

Water.

Water brings back so many memories for me.

As a child, I hated the water.  One of the earliest pictures of me was taken on a family trip to Florida.  In it, I am in maybe a foot of water, wearing a turtle-shaped innertube around my waist, water wings on my arms, and my mom is holding onto me.  And I am bawling inconsolably.  My mom remembers this photo as well and says I was like that for years around water, hating to be even near it.

When I was maybe seven, I went to camp and was required to pass the swim test.  The test consisted of swimming to and from a buoy and then treading water for a minute.  At this age, I was no longer afraid of the water, and I had even had swimming lessons.  However, I was still a terrible swimmer.  That one minute of treading water was pure agony.  My arms and legs, already sore from swimming to the buoy, were burning with pain, and I was inhaling an unsafe amount of dirty lake water through both my nose and mouth.  I managed to pass the test, but to this day I cannot tread water without thinking about that minute at camp.

In high school, I went out onto a lake in a canoe with a girl I liked.  We had been at a party, and the host’s house was on a canal that connected to the lake.  So we paddled out to the middle of the lake under the vast night sky as the dark water quietly lapped at our canoe.  We weren’t even dating at the time and nothing untoward happened.  Just two people alone with the water, enjoying spending time talking to one another.

Senior year of college, two friends and I went swimming in the Grand River.  We drove north on the Beltline towards Plainfield.  We crossed over the bridge and turned onto Cannonsburg Road.  We parked at a quarry and ended up walking through the woods until we hit the river.  We stripped down to underwear and went swimming for an hour. We hadn’t planned on doing that, but it just felt right.  It was early October, so the river was chilly but not frozen.  It was the most gorgeous autumn afternoon.  Floating on my back, staring up at the red sky, I felt at such peace.  An unplanned moment of serenity.

Two years ago, I walked across a seven-mile lake.  It was February in Wisconsin, so the lake was frozen solid.  The walk was to raise money for the local animal hospital/shelter, and I went with three friends.  The weather that day was paradoxical – early February and overcast but warm enough that I regretted being so bundled up.

Though several hundred people participated in the walk, my friends and I were the first ones onto the lake.  Midway through the walk, I looked around and had the most eerie realization – I could not tell where I was.  I knew I was in the middle of a frozen lake, but I couldn’t see where the lake ended and land began.  The white/grey of the snow and ice blended perfectly with the grey of the sky making it impossible to tell where the sky began.

Ice, land, sky all bleeding into one all encompassing grey void.  A Purgatorial wasteland stretching on infinitely.   It was overwhelming and oddly freeing at the same time.

It is odd thinking back on all these memories, remembering what I was like at the various stages of my life, reflecting on how much I have changed.  But the water is always there, holding these memories for me.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me),
It’s always our self we find in the sea.

~e.e. cummings

Paul Menn
Paul ('10) lives in Grand Rapids with his wife, Emma ('10), and cat, HandsomeMarcoCat. He loves board games, Babylon 5, and honey-curry chicken. Everything else is negotiable.

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