Where’s My Rainbow?

Short Beach, Stratford, CT — my happy place, where community thrives and my heart always lies.

I wrote this on Facebook to my friend, Laura, who is in recovery and was having a hard day. I decided to repost it here because maybe it will help someone. (I made some minor edits).

“All of you are perfect just as you are and you could use a little improvement.” Shunryu Suzuki-roshi (1905–1971).

We all face difficult circumstances, struggles, hardship. The answer is finding ways — practices — to reduce our own suffering. Pain exists but we create our own suffering.

Now, just because I said that does not make it easy. Some days are a breeze and others tick slowly on. We all face such days. What you don’t see is that most people have inner struggles.

If you have a kind heart — and I think you do — then let the kind heart rule. If the day seems too long, concentrate on the hour. Concentrate so hard that you forget about the hour.

When I go open sea swimming and do laps, the first lap is the hardest. I am out there thinking, “Why am I doing this? It’s taking forever to get over to that dock across the inlet.”

I just give myself tiny goals: just get to the dock and then you can tread water. But when I get to the dock, I think: “That wasn’t so bad. I’ll swim back to the other pier and then if this still sucks, I’ll swim to shore.” But then I get back to the first pier and I’m watching the Cormorant perched on the wooden piling and I swim as quietly and smoothly as I can to see how close I can get before it flies away. I swim right underneath it and I smile.

And then I’m swimming again toward the dock and I see a fisherman casting from the shore and a gorgeous cloud drifts in the sky behind him. And still I’m swimming and I’ve lost track of the laps, the minutes, the hour. I’m swimming faster, smoother. I leave a small satisfying wake, an Osprey dives and lifts a fish out of the water and then magically, a whole school of sliver fishes jumps in front of me like my own personal rainbow.

I am far from shore and a man kayaks by me and asks, “Are you walking across the bottom?” because, I think, he’s surprised there is a woman out here swimming so far from shore and how does she do it for so long? He had passed me earlier on his way out and now he’s coming back and thinking, “There is no way that woman can still be out there swimming without having stopped to rest.” and that is why he thinks I must be walking across the bottom, even though there is no way the water could be that shallow out here.

I laugh and say, “No, I’m swimming.”

What happens is that on the first day you feel like you suck at it and each minute feels like an hour but, still, you go back each day — this is your practice — and each day it gets easier because you are practicing. You lose count quickly.

But then.

Then there is a crappy day. The waves are choppy. There’s wind. The Cormorant craps on your head when you swim by. “Fuck it,” you say, “I’m quitting after this lap.” But then you finish the lap and even though you have a throat full of salt water you think, “Hey, I just did that lap in this stormy water, I bet I can do another.” So you do another.

When you finally get out of the water, you are tired, your muscles are shaky. You pick up your towel, wrap it around you, you walk home and get in the shower. And you did it. You swam through the stormy day. Maybe tomorrow there will be magic again — a beautiful bird or a little girl learning to swim — but today’s magic is that you did it. It was rough. You forgot to breathe right. You swallowed a bunch of salt water. You fucking hate the cormorant that shit on your head. But, you did it. You got up and swam. You practiced. And while you think you weren’t any good, you improved. Because you didn’t quit.