Thursday, February 5, 2009

Depth Dimension

As a child the challenge to touch the bottom of the deepest end of the pool could not be ignored. Some days I spent half my time in the pool exploring my limits of depth. As the water flooded over my head I fought to resist my body’s tendency of acting like an inflation device, pushing myself further and further down the wall. Could I make contact with the floor before my lungs reached their limit? Alternately I plunged down as far as I could force my body to go and clung to the side of pool sucking in deep breaths of air. Determined, I continued until my feet found the solid tiles of the pool’s surface buried under twelve feet of water. Then my muscles hurried to push off of the bottom with a thrust that propelled me to emerge, gasping but satisfied at the surface.

Most of my explorations occurred at the local YMCA pool. But the hot summer days Mom took me to the outdoor pool were the best. The outdoor pool boasted a high dive. Climbing the ladder to the top was frightening, but the plunge that followed never failed to be worth it. I never attempted the feat of diving or flipping from such a height, opting for the unembellished “pencil drop.” But I would stretch my body as long and skinny as it would become, aiming to pierce the water with the least amount of resistance. The increased span of air between my body and the water allowed gravity to pull harder, at least in my childish perception. I always plunged deeper into the water off the high dive than the lower one. The seconds spent under the water after a jump were my favorite. The noise of the people at the pool disappeared, replaced by the sound and feel of cool rushing water. I relished the moment, allowing my body to hang suspended in the water for as long as possible before floating to the top and making way for the next diving artist.
I didn’t realize it then, but I think I held a fascination with depth.
Two years ago I went spelunking in a cave in northern Tennessee. Along with nine of my friends, I went crawling into the bowels of the earth with nothing but a small flashlight strapped to my head. It was exhilarating. I crawled over rocks and squeezed through narrow passageways, traveling deeper into the ground with every movement. Face covered in clay, hands reaching to help friends who were less comfortable with the adventure, I was perfectly content. The trek ended in a cavern, a hidden gem of beauty half a mile below the surface of the earth where the slow dripping of water had crafted cascades of artwork in the clay. I stood in awe. After exploring the group paused to listen to the darkness, headlights clicking off, inviting the silence. The moment etched itself vividly in my memory. It felt like the depths of the earth were pulling something out of the depths of my being. I disappeared into the expanse of something so much bigger than myself. I wanted it to stretch on forever.
My friends tell me I have an obsession with deepness. Every once in a while it will crop up into a conversation. Then they stare at me as if depth is a novelty, as if I’ve stunned them. I wasn’t trying to. Their shock takes me by surprise. I never quite know what to say.

I won’t deny their assertions. I am fascinated by depth. Given the chance I will dive. What befuddles me is why people consider that distinctive. Does everyone else like staying in the shallows? I don’t. I can’t. It makes me miserable.
Superficial conversations haunt me. They haunt me like standing next to the ocean on a hot summer day. All I want to do is dive in, but for some reason I’m only allowed to wet one foot. I find making friends is difficult. It’s not because I don’t value relationships; I just can’t start them well. I hate wading through the meaningless questions about the weather the first ten times I meet someone before we finally make it to a conversation of substance. The result is that I have deep friendships, but I don’t have many.
Last week I sat on the couch with a friend, and I dove. I saw something beneath the surface and I went after it. My friend didn’t follow. It was awkward, trying to have a conversation with my head underwater and hers firmly planted on the shore. Maybe I should stop plunging where other people don’t want to plunge. Maybe I should start reading the ‘no diving’ signs. Maybe I should stop asking so many questions. Maybe I should.
There is something about depth that is vulnerable. Maybe it’s the element of the unknown, crawling into what can’t be seen or expected. Maybe it’s losing sight of the surface, worrying about what will happen outside ourselves while we are away exploring deep caverns. Maybe it’s both. Maybe some people are scared to discover what lies beneath the skin, scared of finding something ugly, scared of finding nothing at all. Or maybe they do know what is inside, but they’ve been hurt one to many times to let anyone else see. Maybe they’ve shut themselves up like an oyster, holding their pearls tightly inside.

I know diving is scary. I’m afraid of it too. I’ve experienced the sensation of throwing myself headfirst into a murky body of water, not knowing what I will find. I’ve faced the questions that leave more questions than answers. I’ve also watched a lot of people walk up to the edge of the diving board and slowly back away. Their fear is sensible, tangible. I’ve felt the thwack of landing on the water the wrong way.

Yet given the chance I will dive, despite my fear. I don’t know what is wrong with me. I don’t know why I remain stubbornly attracted to deepness when everyone else wants to stay at the surface. All I know is that I’m stupid enough not to change. I don’t want to change. Somehow I believe souls were meant to go deep. I believe that if I wait long enough I’ll convince someone else to be crazy enough to dive in with me too. So far the water has caught me every time.

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