A Blank Canvas | Part 3 of 3
It’s late summer, 1951. We just moved from El Monte, California, to a house near Savannah, Georgia. The front yard faces the river you see in the photo above. I’m 7 ½ years old. I don’t know how to swim; a half-mile wide river flows in front of our house.
Not long after we move in, my father takes Sister #2 and me to the public landing to learn to swim. He wants to waterproof us in case we fall into the river. We already know how to hold our breath, close our eyes, and put our faces under water.
We wade into the water. It’s yukky. The public landing is full of oyster shells, small rocks and stinky mud. I came to learn to swim. But Dad says not so fast! Today you learn to float. On your back.
It doesn’t take long to figure out I can’t struggle against the water. If I do, I’ll sink for sure. I have to relax totally on my back, breath normally, and stop flailing my arms.
This isn’t about good intentions, careful planning, or following all the steps to move through the water. It’s about learning to trust the water (and my father if I begin to go down). Slowly and surely, I learn to float on my back.
So here I am today, in my 70s, wondering how to manage life on a river that’s far older and greater than I. The answer is absurdly simple.
I shift my weight a bit on the raft. Then, as though wanting to help me, the raft bends slightly and I slide into the river on my back. The raft drifts away. I relax, face the sky, take a deep breath and float. I feel strangely at home.
I’m awake. Alert. Aware of how wonderful it is to rest in the water. I’m also aware that I’ve been through hard times ever since the day I was born. I’m weary from laboring days, hours and years, trying to control the chaos within and without.
I’ve spent hours and years turning things over in my head, analyzing situations, making plans, sometimes presenting and defending them. I know how to get things done. Or so it seems, given what people say to me.
Yet the most difficult feedback I’ve received didn’t come from heady academic plans or detailed recommendations. It came from people who knew me better than I knew myself.
- Mrs. Hanks’ comments about my piano playing
- Mr. Griswold’s handwritten note about my intelligence and relational contributions to the office
- My new professor friend’s sketch that saw creativity in me I dared not see or own
- Trusted colleagues who saw far more in me than I saw in myself
Sadly, I didn’t take this to heart. I just wanted to get back to work so I would be ready for the next thing on my list.
The point of my dream isn’t what will I DO? It’s simply who AM I? It isn’t about my well-researched, carefully written presentations or plans for the rest of my life. It’s about how I will BE, and how I have already been.
Like the tide, creativity is birthed by forces I’ll never understand. All my life I’ve tried to keep at bay full acceptance of my creative voice and power. Why? Because of fear, self-doubt, self-preservation instincts. Even so, my creativity served me well. Especially as a child and often as an adult woman. It kept me relatively safe in overwhelmingly unsafe situations.
Today I’m practicing a different way of swimming.
- Floating, not fighting
- Going with the tide, not against the storm
- Vulnerable by choice, relaxed and aware
- Listening, contemplating, feeling what’s going on
- Unself-conscious and open
- Aware of the sky above, the water beneath
- Traveling companions beside, ahead of and behind me
With thanks to the raft for getting me to this point, and to you, Dear Readers, for doing what you do so well.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 August 2016
Photo credit: DAFraser, Summer 2010