I'd not swam in the ocean in two years either. I missed out on seeing the friends and neighbors that live in the small beach community where I spent at least a portion of every summer for the last 32 years...until the pandemic.
The ocean is home. I was born in a city on the water. Swimming in the ocean is second nature. Being in the sea with seals, dolphins, mink whales, and yes, sharks, is "normal." And the last two years have been anything but.
Friends I'd not seen in two years greeted me with cautious smiles:
"Is it okay if I bring my chair next to yours?"
Or, the need for an inevitable apology after passing a bottle of water or towel included grazing each other's hands....
The ocean, however, never even balked when I went near. The gulls didn't seem to care either.
Being in the ocean is like coming home. The gentle sway of my buoyant body amidst the waves. The soft sound of a black loon's wings as it flies across the water. The utter stillness of a calm, sunny day. No wind. No rain. Just the familiar sight of tiny silvery fish swimming a ring around me, sometimes jumping up out of the water, catching the light before silently dipping back under the surface.
These are the things only an ocean swimmer can know....
The one "rule" to swimming out beyond the sandbar is to turn back when you see a dolphin or a seal. Sharks aren't usually far behind. But rules don't apply in open water. It's just you and Nature.
There's no lifeguard at my beach. No one to save you if you begin to flounder. If you get caught in the undertow or see a fin pop up on the horizon, the only thing you can do is stay calm. Breathe. And, focus on what's in front of you.
Swimming comes more naturally than walking for me. I do much better in the water than I do on land. I'm comfortable in the sea. It's one of the few places where I experience true peace, despite the threat of multiple rows of sharp, jagged teeth. Luckily, I have teeth, too.
Two years since I'd been to the ocean. Two years since I'd been myself. Nothing made me more aware of that difference than actually going home to my little beach community. To my friends and neighbors. To the sea.
In the last two years, the surf has claimed more sand during high tide. I stayed too long in my chair on the water's edge and was nearly carried out by the waves. Even moving myself back another 10 feet wasn't enough. The ocean seemed more wild to me this year. Less forgiving. More protective.
There are now sea turtles on the beach. They never came before. But two years without tourists brought back the original residents. There's also new signs about the dangers of Great White Sharks, now coming within just six feet of the shore at high tide. It used to be that the worst thing one had to worry about was a stray Blue Fin trying to escape the too-eager nets of greedy fishermen. Now, you can be within a few meters of the shore and still be in mortal danger. That's a lot like life on land these days. It's dangerous to breathe. You can't even be outdoors with friends and not worry that you're too close.
My eyes become a shade of sea-glass-green at the beach. After going into the water. After sitting in the Sun. After laughing at the waves that try to trip me as I wander into the shallows.
Just as I began to feel more like myself again, I was called back. Back to "real" life. Back to friends and neighbors in other parts of the world. Back to prior obligations. And away from the things I love.
No more peace. No more ocean. Just a lot of hard decisions. Pragmatic, measured movements. Strategic implementation of short-term plans to meet long-term goals.
Water is still wet. But everything else has changed.