The Deep End

I have been re-reading a wonderful book by Parker Palmer titled, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.¬† In describing himself, he says (among other things), “…less gifted at slipping slowly into a subject than at jumping into the deep end to see if I can swim”.¬† I was amused as I read this line because it so accurately describes my approach to new ideas and topics.¬† And¬†I was suddenly gifted with a memory, courtesy of the swimming metaphor.

We were visiting my¬†Uncle Joe and his family in Louisville.¬† I have no idea how old I was – between 5 and 10 years of age.¬† Joe’s family belonged to a club, and we had gone to swim in the pool.¬† I had never been in the deep end of a pool on my own, only holding tightly to a parent.¬† But that afternoon, I knew I wanted to go in by myself.¬† I bided my time, keeping an eye on my parents, and saw my opportunity.¬† Just then, Joe looked me in the eye, and nodded.¬† I knew he was fully aware of what I was up to, and with his complicity – I jumped!

Here is the part of that memory that bowled me over today, as I thought of it:¬† even now, I can feel that water, the buoyancy of it, holding me up.¬† I did not feel like I would sink — in fact, I felt like the water was exerting pressure upwards, waiting for me to figure out how to move across its surface.¬† And I did figure it out.¬†¬†

Like most children without benefit of formal lessons, I discovered the dog-paddle first.  Eventually, I learned how to tread water as well as the classic strokes.  To this day, treading water, eyes closed and face up to the sun, may be my favorite water-based activity.  I love to use as little energy and motion as possible to keep my head above the water line.  I think this hearkens back to that recognition that the element of water will help me if I cooperate with it rather than fight it.

If I cooperate with it, instead of fight it.¬† This thought brings me back to the concept of vocation.¬† Parker Palmer says that, in struggling to find his right livelihood one of the things he learned about vocation “is how one’s values can do battle with one’s heart.”¬† In my life, I’ve tended to fight this battle over the values of “security” and “comfort”.¬† There is nothing wrong with these values.¬† However, my heart resonates¬†to a different vibration.¬† Instead of security my heart longs for the vulnerability of openness, creative tension rather than comfort.¬† And it is on this level that vocation is to be found.¬† If I cooperate with the urge to become who I was born to be, vocation is what will hold me up and allow me to propel myself forward.

Hidden in the memory of my first dip in the deep end¬†is another little gem.¬† That day, I discovered confidence in my ability to take physical risks.¬† I later jumped off both the low and high diving boards.¬† My Dad and Uncle Joe encouraged me to keep trying new things, and were vociferous in their belief that I could succeed.¬† As I strive to incorporate the idea that “risk taker” is part of who I was born to be, along with “educator” and “word lover”, I have a ready-made cheering squad. All I have to do is remember.