“If you want to find God, hang out in the space between your thoughts.” -Alan Cohen
In the summer of 1985 I was fourteen years old, I had my first heartbreak and I almost died.
My mom was sick of seeing me sulk about getting dumped, so she was happy to take me to the pool to meet my friend, Angela. I still remember the pink bikini with blue stripes I was wearing that day, that I didn’t want to wear again for fear of the jinx it must have brought me. I walked in, laid my towel down next to the deep end of the pool where Ang was waiting, and suddenly felt big hands wrapping around me from behind to pick me up. It was Tommy, this really big football player who was a few years older than me and spent most of his high school career giving wedgies and tormenting his fellow classmates for his own entertainment. I’ve always hoped that what happened that day saved at least a few future victims from his attention-seeking bullying behavior. I can’t be sure about others, but he never messed with me again.
As he was carrying me toward the edge of the deep end, I asked him to stop and let me tell him something. But the pool was his stage and he wasn’t going to stop his performance to give me a chance to tell him that I couldn’t swim. I remember wondering if I would be able to figure it out on my own once I got in the water, but I was expecting a toss on the top, not for him to slam me all the way to the floor.
When all of my flailing around didn’t get me off the bottom, I found my way to the wall and started trying to actually climb my way up the wall and out of the water. This sort of makes me laugh for two reasons: one because it’s pretty ridiculous to think I could climb up a wet concrete wall like Spiderman, and two because I am a creative problem solver and it strangely makes total sense to me, even now. The wall was the last logical thought I remember having.
I have no idea how long I was down there at this point. Angela told me later that everyone up above thought I was playing a joke by just sitting down at the bottom of the pool for a while and she gave it a little time before outing my inability to swim in hopes that I would learn real quick while I was down there.
The next thing I recall is feeling someone in the water with me and I suppose as my panic set in, I became too frantic for him to be able to get a hold of me. I wanted this person, who I didn’t know was the same big bully that got me there, to grab me and take me up so I could breathe again. But suddenly he was gone.
I was all alone down there with no idea what was going on up above. Could anyone save me or would they just leave me down there to die?
And that’s when I felt dying. The beginning of drowning brought these two thoughts: “today is going to be the day I die” and “my mom is going to be really sad”. And then I let go. I felt this almost unimaginable amount of acceptance that I wish I could get back, without the dying part.
It was in my letting go that I could be saved. When he came back down, I was limp and weak and had totally surrendered to the power of the water. So he swooped me up and carried me to the top where an entire pool deck of teenagers and kids were staring at me and waiting to see if I had survived.
God can take on any form. He was Angela yelling “Somebody help her, she can’t swim!” and He was even in the form of a high school bully turned hero who saved my life that day. I use to be really mad at Tommy for throwing me into that pool of shame and fear. But now I’m grateful to him for teaching me lessons about pride and faith. I’ve been angry at and grateful for God for the same reasons. Every single day I ask God to hold my hand, and there are many days when I ask him to carry me. He is with me on the way down, at the bottom and at the top. He saves me when I surrender and stop fighting against the place I’m in. When there is no more fight left in me, He gives me peace.
I have often imagined the scene from above the water and how different the experience was for those up there compared to mine down below. For me under the water I got my first glimpse of God in that space between, a space between life and death. Now I spend a lot of time trying to find that space through prayer, meditation and yoga. And I like this way a lot better, at least for now.