There are these little purple flowers in Ireland. They grow in the strangest, most obnoxious places – like out of stone walls. It’s really very pretty and kind of cool. As I was walking by them, I stopped for a second. There was no vine attached. They didn’t climb up or spill over… they were just there. There. Somehow. Bobbing gently in the breeze as if to giggle at your wondering at them.
When I marveled at these beautiful, strong, but also delicate and fragile flowers – I saw myself in the sea. I sometimes am not sure how I got here, and how I am so strong as to take root and to blossom. It puzzles me to ponder it. How did I so little know myself that I did not know that I can do all this?
Off we went into the water. Toward the unknown. Bravely. Swimming and swimming and swimming. The people on the boat yelled directions. I couldn’t hear them. They pointed one way, then another. I swam one way, then another. Then around the boat. Then they pointed in a direction and I went that way. They yelled some more. I couldn’t hear them. We were past Sandy Cove. Past safety. Out to sea in the swell and chop. I was definitely confused. I picked a point and headed toward it. I couldn’t see any other swimmers. I couldn’t see anything but the sea and the cliff I was swimming toward.
Then the boat sped away.
I kept swimming toward the cliff. I couldn’t see anything. I couldn’t see anybody. There was a feeling of loneliness in my heart… but I did not feel alone. I am not alone, I said to myself. I am safe. I am strong. I am not alone. I have the sea. I did the only rational thing I could think to do; I asked the sea to be my friend. I didn’t know where I was. I didn’t know where I was going. But I was confident that the shore was Ireland. I was confident that the sea was my friend. I was confident that I could keep swimming. I knew nothing of time. I knew nothing of distance. I knew nothing.
But the sea is my friend. And the shore is Ireland. And I can keep swimming.
The chorus in my head was from a song called Rocks and Water.
“I will be rocks, I will be water, I will leave this to my daughter; keep your head up in the wind. When you feel the night grow colder, wrap the light around your shoulders, and I will be with you even then.”
I thought to myself, “I can do this.”
And I kept swimming. The boat came back. Suddenly, the swimmers came back. Friendly faces. Faces at all! And off we went in another direction. And the boat stopped and we came up to it. I popped my head up and smiled.
“Look at that smile,” One of the crew said. “Do you know where you are?”
“Nope!” I answered.
I had the hardest time hearing them, through my earplugs. They just sort of pointed in a direction and I swam that way again. Then they had us circling and circling the boat for a while. It was getting cold. I went back to the Rocks and Water chorus.
“when you feel the night grow colder, wrap the light around your shoulders”
And I sang it to myself. And when Rocks and Water faded, I heard Stephanie’s song.
“I know great change awaits me. No force on this earth can stop me…”
Over and over. My earplugs started to leak. The wind picked up and the waves were right into my face, choppy and making it difficult to breathe. I played cat and mouse with the boat (or mouse and cat, is more accurate).
I kept swimming. I can do this. That’s Ireland. And the sea is my friend. And I can keep swimming.
Then I started swimming faster; my hands were locking up again. My earplugs were starting to fall out. My swim cap was starting to slip. And my fingers wouldn’t work to adjust them. I felt silly for making this day that much tougher. Oh well. Keep swimming.
I suddenly remembered a pair of earrings from one of the shops in Kinsale. They were the only pair I could remember. And they reminded me of the storm and the waves and the turbulence and the color of the sea and sky when they are dark, dark gray. Enjoy the storm, that was what they spoke to me. I determined that the first thing I was going to do when I got back to dry land was to go to Kinsale and buy that pair of earrings.
Then there was the boat again. They force fed us water every 25 minutes. Fast as we could, we had to drink a whole bottle. The water sloshed around in my stomach and made me so uncomfortable and nearly ill. The fumes from the boat were terrible! And the boat hovered in such a way as to purposefully make me breathe them in. I was becoming nauseous. Well, I thought, it’s not that bad; picture little flowers growing up with the blossoms as gas cans. That’s it Bethany! Just pretend the smell is gas-can flowers. For whatever reason; that helped. Flowers, not fumes. Flowers.
So I kept swimming. I was getting cold. And a bit tired. I wanted to close my eyes, strangely enough. I wanted to fall asleep. I was very tired. I kept closing my eyes. My hands were locking up.
Swim faster! I told myself. Dig deep.
“You’ll find a place in you to keep going that you didn’t know was there,” Apostle Jim had said when he hugged me goodbye.
So I kept swimming. I moved my arms around faster. I kicked harder. Then it was back around the island. Which Island? Sandycove. Oh! Really?
Was that hard?
But for whatever reason, the wind or the tide or whatever, the current around the corner was brutal. I fought it, and fought it, and I felt like I was going nowhere. Imagine it’s France, Bethany. France. Swim harder!
So I did.
I swam harder, and I worked harder and I finally beat the tide and was back into the bay. It was warmer. There was shore.
“Bethany!” Ned came up to me in his boat.
I stopped and smiled at him.
“Sprint! Sprint. Go faster!”
So I started to sprint. But I was so tired, I couldn’t go much faster. I didn’t know how long or how far I’d been going, but it felt long enough and my belly was full of water and my throat was burned from fumes and the saltwater I tried to inhale and swallow only made it worse… I tried to go fast. That was all I could think about.
“Bethany!” It was Ned again. And I popped my head out again.“I said sprint!” Then all I could hear was something like, “Go back and try again!”
So I turned and I headed back for the treacherous, laborious, awful corner. I just have to do it again. That’s all. I just have to go around again. And go faster.
I made it back to the corner where a boat was waiting… with a bottle of water. I knew the drill now and I downed the thing in less than 30 seconds, tossed the bottle back and thanked them. They were impressed (even gave me kudos for that at the debrief!). But now, as I turned back… I had to battle the gale force maelstrom of the crazy tide current thing again. Again, I felt like I wasn’t going anywhere for some time. I fought my way through it… so hard, so hard… again.
“You can go to shore,” The boat people had said to me. “But you have to sprint!”
Gah. How do they know… oh yeah, they have radios!
“He’s going to make you sprint in some crazy direction,” David had said. “Just put your ‘I can do this’ cap on.”
So I did.
And I swam hard, and I swam fast. And I fought that tide and I got through it and then I picked up my pace and sprinted for the slipway as fast as I could across that bay. Every time I would start to feel tired I would picture somebody from back home. Name after name. Face after face. I could swim fast for them. I could go faster for them. Apostle and Miss Catherine. Nathan and Jenah. Seth and Stephanie. Mom and Dad. Natalie, Bruce, Logan, Micaiah, Darin, Connie, Mark, Holly, Ben, Val, Tim, Stephanie, Paige, Barbara Jane, David, Samantha, Apostle Steve and Miss Kim, Apostle Ariel and Miss Lisa… on and on and on the list went on. And then a name popped up on the list that surprised me.
Didn’t you ever think, Bethany, that maybe this was worth doing for you? And the thought was so strange to me, because I guess I never did. Really? I can just do this because I can do it? Because I can? Because I’m that amazing? Because this Viking type body with all its Irish passion is just built for cold water and long distances! Because I was designed like that! Because I can! Because I just can do it, then I should just do it! I can swim the English Channel, so I should swim the English Channel. And I will.
I know, I know. Deep thoughts for such a little sprint. But I was then, again, headed to France in my mind. I always finish well, I told myself. Always. And I sprinted that whole distance back and came out of the water panting. I was cheered for and congratulated. I had been in the water for 3 hours and 20 minutes and swum approximately 8 km. Pretty good for not knowing where I was going, with only water to drink, and in such cold…
Everybody said I finished strong and looked good! They commented on my smile. On my attitude. On my fast attentiveness to what the crew was telling me to do. I was pleased with myself. I was pleased for myself. I was very, very proud of me.
Tonight, as I walked home, I saw some more of those purple flowers growing out of the wall. And I smiled at how they made me feel, being beacons of hope and encouragement and strength the way they were. And I wondered, if they could feel, how they would feel. Maybe just glad, maybe just proud. Maybe just happy to be perched on a wall, enjoying a view their fragile faces might not otherwise see. Maybe just pretty. Maybe just unique. Maybe they wouldn’t think they were so inspiring… maybe they wouldn’t realize that they were a story to tell. Maybe they just grew because that’s where the seed fell and that’s where they were meant to be. And they are just content to be in that space.
Maybe they just grew… because they can.