As I watched the funny little scraps of clouds turning ever pinker in the setting sun trundle across the sky and burn away, the parts not lit dark grey or slightly green, I wondered how and at what point I would remember this day in the future.
Would it be a long time until I felt as full of joy – I could have whooped ecstatically since about 3pm – again? Would this feeling of needing to scream, laugh, twirl, of needing to lift my arms to the sky to express this feeling, this “sense of extravagant well-being”, as Dorothy L. Sayers put it in “Gaudy Night”, abate quickly and be remembered in a few years as the last time I felt so joyful?
Let it not be so. Let this be only the first of many happy days to come. And let me spread this joy to others – it seems criminal not to share it.
But what did I do? Nothing special – I swam in a lake on a warm summer’s day. I cannot remember the last time I swam in a lake on such a day. This had not been in the plan. The plan had been to go to the craft fair and museum and to maybe sit by the lake. And sit we did.
The lake has always been called a cold lake, not for swimming. When I visited it in my childhood, once, on a school trip, it had been cold. Not for swimming. And deep. Never mind the fact that there was an official beach where you had to pay to get in. The locals are hardy. They will swim in ice cold rivers. They will swim in ice cold lakes. I am not local. I cannot swim in the lake, I thought. It is too cold.
So we sat. On a bench in the shade, underneath a cherry tree in which jaybirds chased each other, we sat and enjoyed the view. The beautiful view, the lake, the mountains, the blue-green lake, the woods, the lake, the boats, the lake.
The lake, gently caressed by the warm breeze – we have been having an almost unprecedented streak of dry, hot weather, straight from the Sahara – lay there, blue and green, clear water, crossed now and then by silent boats.
There seemed to be no way to get to the water except through the official beach which required a bathing suit and money. Money I had, but no bathing suit. I just wanted to dip my toes, the lake was too cold anyway, so they told me, so I told myself. But there seemed to be no way to get to a place where I could have gone and dipped my toes without putting on a bathing suit.
A man appeared. Suddenly a man appeared on our left side, in swimming trunks, carrying a towel, and clambered over the fence. There was a path! A path down to the lake to dip my toes. And fearlessly I left my mother behind, who thought she could not walk this path, as her shoes had no grip. Neither did mine, but I walked down that path, and narrow it was, zigzagging down to the water.
And then I reached the water’s edge, no easy way in, halfway through a bush and hardly any stony beach to leave my shoes on, but leave them I did and in I went and oh, was the water ever warm and soft. I would have thrown myself in, clothes and all, had there not been a museum to go to.
I reached the shaded bench hardly out of breath, amazing considering I have not climbed any stairs at all since March due to my bad knee, and impressed on my mother the necessity to drive further down the road. I had seen from the water that there was a shore less steep than this one, with wooden piers and few people.
Please let’s drive down that road, just to see if it’s possible, the water is warm, please, I want to swim (to feel the water all over me not just my legs, plunge into that warm blue-green softness, refresh myself, my soul completely). I had not needed something this much in a while and it puzzles me now, how strongly I felt and feel about it.
So we drove, debating how I would swim without a bathing suit.
My underwear is black, it will almost not be noticeable that I am not wearing a bathing suit, I will wear my tank top over it and afterwards I can just wear my shirt and my skirt and my things will dry, see, here there are parked cars, here the shore is less steep, here are people bathing, here’s a beach, a pier, here let me bathe, let me swim, I need to swim, let us return here once we are done with craft fair and museum, please let’s, let’s please (I don’t know why it is so important but it is).
And we returned, all yarn that I had bought reflecting my desire for that blue-green water.
Why now? Why now when I had had the chance to swim a hundred times this summer? How many times had I longingly stared at the New Danube, crossing it again and again during my commutes. Every train I take carries me over that water and yet I have never swum in there, not once.
I declined my colleagues’ invitation to go swimming in the Old Danube. In did not pack my bathing suit when I went travelling and swam neither in Berlin nor in Hamburg, although the days I spent there were certainly perfect for swimming.
I have two pools on the roof of my apartment building and yet I have not dared to use them once.
Why now? Was it the cloudless summer sky, that “terrible blue” (I do not remember the quote)? Was it the clear water, its quality and color something I associate with my childhood summers, which led to me to prefer clear mountain streams and lakes to any other water when it comes to swimming? Was it the warmth of the water, its softness, its gentle sound on the shore?
I do not know. I went. I took off shoes and skirt, left behind knee brace and glasses, and did not care if anybody looked at me. I did not care at all, about anything, except the water.
And once I had reached the end of the stretch of pebbles and felt my feet sinking into soft mud and big clouds of matter welling up, marring the view to the bottom of the lake, I plunged.
I swam with the dragonflies and the little fishes, marvelling at my hands parting that blue-green water – my hands! My hands parting that blue-green water, me! -, feeling twinges in my legs and knees that have been there since March, so carefully, carefully, but smelling the water, that scent of summer, not fishy, not like anything except air very close to the surface of a clear lake or river, turning over on my back to float and rest and listen to my heart beating loudly.
I could have whooped for sheer joy. I could have screamed, those screams that children scream when they are feeling happy. I could have screamed at the world to look at me, there in the water, still alive, feeling whole, refreshed, immersed, at peace and full of joy. Look! I am here! I am here and I am swimming in this lake, in this sky, with trees and mountains all around me and for once there is noone and nothing but me in this water having fun and I do not care about anything except staying afloat and being careful with my knee and not ever leaving the water again.
I don’t know when I returned to the shore, it seemed much too short a time to me. I wanted to go again. I want to go again. I want to swim again and now I don’t care where.
I took the plunge. And it was fine. Better than fine.