Monday, June 29, 2009


It's raining outside. I love the sweet, fresh smell of it, and the sound of the raindrops hitting the trees and ground. I got to thinking about how impactful water has been - and is - to me. Beyond the obvious physical need, it has played an important role in my life, being a frequent companion of mine in the poignant highs and lows of my existence.

When I was young, water was a medium for fun and relaxation. My grandparents lived on a small lake south of my home town. They had a canoe, a sailboat and a motor boat, and some of my best memories are being out on that lake paddling through the lily pads, water-skiing with most of the men in my family, and a little bit of fishing. On the Fourth of July you would see everyone's campfires dotting the edge of the lake, and you could walk around and have s'mores with pretty much anyone, since there was a such sense of community. You could take a boat out to the middle of the lake to watch the small-scale fireworks show overhead, or just stay on shore and watch the fireflies put on their own show.

As I grew into adolescence, I starting lifeguarding and teaching swimming lessons - a natural early job considering the years of lessons and training I had taken myself, as well as my aforementioned experience in and around water. My older sister and younger brother also lifeguarded and taught; it kinda ran in the family. I remember how much I enjoyed teaching Red Cross-sponsored young childrens' swimming classes every Saturday. So much, in fact, that I think it was way back then that I actually started thinking about having my own children someday.

Of course, water activities can often bring awkwardness, especially during one's teenage years. What guy hasn't been stuck in the pool, because if he were to get out the whole world would see the boner he had after watching the girls in their bikinis? Embarrassing situations involving pools followed me to college - a strict Christian college mind you - where my future wife, best friend and I broke in and went skinny-dipping, only to be caught by the nighttime security guard. For that and other acts of indiscretion, I was suspended from college, but thankfully was able to return the following semester, when I received a 3.9 GPA - "just to prove I could if I wanted to." I didn't maintain it after that...

Getting more serious, water is not only with me during the lighter times of my life, but also the darker. Water can bring fear: ridiculous fear like stressing about sharks, possibly due to watching one too many Jaws movies as a kid (1 was awesome, 2 was okay, "3-D" was bad, and 4 was absolutely horrendous), or parental fear like worrying about my children drowning. If I was a religious person, I might be able to appreciate the symbolic meaning of water. Religion is rife with it, as it can represent a cleansing, an immersion, an act of faith and dedication, or beginning a new life. Baptism is just one example of this. But I don't ascribe to any organized religion, so I can't rely upon such positive symbolism.

Lately for me, water has become more of a channel to contemplate, or possibly escape from, my life. I have had to deal with depression throughout all my years, but it has been near-debilitating in the last 8 months or so. I have been on anti-depressants for a few months now, but honestly I can't tell if they are working. I'm afraid to stop taking them, though. Remember one of the opening scenes in American Beauty, when Kevin Spacey (whilst in mid-life crisis) is jerking off in the shower? It's not the masturbation that's noteworthy in the scene; that's normal. (Note: every guy has done that countless times in the shower; if he says he hasn't, he's lying.) What's noteworthy is that he is escaping. In the solitude and privacy of the shower, he is transporting his mind to some other place, so that he can experience some respite. I can relate to that, because almost every morning I stand in the shower and time stops. I can't focus. I can't move. I just lean up against the shower wall, with a thousand thoughts and at the same time zero thoughts assaulting me. "How can I face this day?" I shut down. Half an hour goes by and I haven't even started washing. "I really need to get going," but I can't. My mind turns to the water streaming down my face, and I look through the waterfall as a distorted lens.

Some evenings I step into the jacuzzi to relax after a tiring day. The hotter the better. It burns at first, but after my nerves give up trying to complain, I slide in the rest of the way. If I submerse my ears, I hear the soothing sound of nothingness. "Is this what it would be like to be deaf?" Sometimes I don't think I'm far off from that. It's almost like a sensory deprivation tank, like William Hurt experimented with in Altered States. Mixing that with an experimental hallucinatory drug, he was able to delve into his "altered states" of consciousness. But I don't need his drug - I have my depression. I turn over, exhale completely, and hit the bottom of the tub. "Is this what it would be like to be dead? It's not so bad. Let's see how long I can stay down here." My lungs are complaining. It doesn't take long for them to start having mini-convulsions. But I don't want to come up for air; I want to stay down in that silence. It is safe there. It is peaceful. It is my cocoon.

What is it about water that has such a powerful effect on us? Is it it's fluidity, how it can dynamically reshape itself to fill in every crevice of what it may envelop, so you can "lose yourself" weightlessly in it? Is it because we cleanse ourselves with it, both physically and often spiritually? Is it simply our natural dependence on it, being the foundation for life on this planet? Does it bring us back to the time we spent in our mothers' wombs? I don't know. All I do know is that it has always been there for me, in the good times and bad. A friend without criticism or condition. One of the few constants in my life.


  1. Sincere and poignant, with wonderfully concrete examples (e.g. "It burns at first, but after my nerves give up trying to complain, I slide in the rest of the way.") A short story by Hemingway called "Summer People" comes to mind. Here's the passage:
    Halfway down the gravel road from Hortons Bay, the town, to the lake there was a spring. The water came up in a tilesunk beside the road, lipping over the cracked edge of the tile and flowing away through the close growing mint into the swamp. In the dark Nick put his arm dwn into the spring but could not hold it there because of the cold. He felt the featherings of the sand spouting up from the spring cones at the bottom against his fingers. Nick thought, I wish I could put all of myself in there. I bet that would fix me. He pulled his arm out and sat down at the edge of the road. It was a hot night."

  2. If you're taking antidepressants for a few months and you're not sure if they're working, then that particular one is not working. There are many many different ones, and sometimes it takes some work with your Doc to find the right one. The right one is out there, and when you find it, you will know.