Wednesday, May 7, 2008

documenting change: thirteen and 1/3

water babies.

As long as I can remember, I have loved the water. Being near water. Being in water. When c. and I have contemplated where in the world we would be willing to live, I have always said that I absolutely cannot be landlocked. My older sisters tell me that when I was very young – two, three, four – they hated taking me to a pool in summers because I was fearless. Taking me to a pool meant they couldn’t casually relax with their friends for fear that I’d be off jumping in the water and drowning.

I love the water. I know. I said this. But being submerged in water – an ocean, a lake, a pool – it makes me feel remarkably joyful. I am amazed by water and its ability to bear and support millions of life forms.

When I was eight or nine, I watched a documentary about women who delivered their children submerged in water. I was fascinated, and I told my mom that I wished I’d been a water baby. She said, “Well, maybe one day you can have water babies.” (So you can understand why I was completely shocked to have a panic attack in the water at my first triathlon.)

I hadn’t been able to say why it was important to me to train for and complete a triathlon. I’m not the most athletic person in the world. Correction. I am not an athletic person. But I am certainly drawn to particular athletic activities. Swimming. Biking. Hiking.

I’ve always wished to be really good at these things, in spite of the fact that I am not. I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was nine. When I was around four or five, my uncle tried to teach me how to ride a bike. Hell. Everybody tried to teach me how to ride a bike. Running beside me, then behind me, then letting go. And I would crash. I could never find my confidence or my center of gravity on two wheels, so I was stuck with the training wheels. And at a certain point, it just gets embarrassing to ride with training wheels.

It was when I lived in Delaware and befriended the boy next door that I learned to maneuver on two wheels. This kid was always on his bike, and he was the only person who I had to play with. So I don’t know if I asked him to teach me to ride, or if I just played around on his bike enough that I caught the hang of it, but I learned. I finally learned to ride a bike. Yet, as an adult, I’ve never felt totally secure on a bike.

Part of training for a triathlon involved my desire to get better at two activities that I like, but that I’m not particularly good at. I had also shed twenty pounds between July ’07 and January ’08, and I wanted to find a way to keep the weight off without being stuck in a gym. I thought that training for a triathlon would help me get into exercising in the great outdoors, and that completing a triathlon would be a way for me to celebrate my weight loss and my health in general. But I never felt convinced that these were the deepest reasons for my desire to compete in a triathlon.

Sometimes, you understand your reasons for doing the things you do only after you have done the deeds. Sometimes, you make tiny connections with perfect strangers that help you know there are even greater reasons why you were supposed to do what you have done.

On Sunday, I completed my second triathlon. No panic attacks. No falling off my bike. No dropping my water bottle. It was a completely blissful event. And I found my reason, after the fact, for why competing in a triathlon was so very important to me. I found the reason why I will make every effort to continue training for triathlons. Don’t you know? It all comes back to my mother.

But just as I was digesting this reason, a second and more surprising reason revealed itself. It is the connections that you make with your fellow competitors, perfect strangers to whom you are perfectly connected. If you are very lucky – as I have become, you discover more than the surface connections between you, but instead the actual connective tissue that binds you as human beings in the world.

The story of my second triathlon, how I discovered my mother’s place in this adventure, and the sheer luck of connecting to a perfect stranger – I’ll share these with you in my next post.

SONG: Summertime, Miles Davis (but I really wanted Right Now, Charles Mingus - not available on Playlist)
Changed to: I Found a Reason, Velvet Underground

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