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Chapter 5: culture: Leisure

Feeling at Home in the Sea

Maybe you don’t at first like this at all: it’s been awhile since you last confronted waves and felt their strange push and pull on your legs as you wade out to mid-thigh depth. You can still just see the ribbed sand on the bottom and the shadow of an occasional rock (past which a little crab may be scurrying). A mysterious strand of seaweed drifts by: you know it is safe but you have to tell yourself it is. You never quite forget the childhood fears of what might be lurking below the surface. And now you’ve remembered how cold it feels, even when the sea is theoretically pretty warm. You are going to have to make yourself get under. You steer well clear of a couple of splashing children and gradually dip yourself deeper into the chilling water; it seems impossible: you’ll never be able to make yourself do it. And then, slowly you let yourself sink forwards, a small wave momentarily freezes your neck. And then you are in, you are used to it – safe, free and (weirdly) warm too.

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You are living in another element. Walking is impossible; sitting is pointless. You bob up and down as the waves roll gently past; ducking your head under; plunging, floating on your back. And part of the background pleasure is the awareness that a slightly timid, reluctant aspect of one’s nature has been enticed and coaxed to overcome its fears.

 

 

A mask and snorkel let you thrive in an alien zone, while being continually supplied with the needed resources from your old, normal world. At first you can’t quite believe that you can breathe, you keep on expecting to be inundated, but you are fine. The nervous instinct is calmed; your breathing becomes more natural. A tiny fish darts past. Friends’ legs become bizarre, fascinating objects; the desire to suddenly grab an ankle is hard to resist. You can be yourself underwater because you have an open life-line to the air.

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Perhaps there may be many further worlds in which – with the right kind of snorkel – we can overcome the initial levels of hesitation and awkwardness. One might come to feel at home with Zen gardens, Norwegian folk music, Baroque architecture, a new relationship…

A more adventurous part of oneself has come to life. And when you emerge, dripping and pleasantly tired, and make your way to the warm beach, you bring that part of yourself with you back from the sea, where it had been living in exile, waiting for you.

 

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