Shallow

Think of the ocean:

or a pool.

What comes to mind when you see or hear the word ‘shallow’?

  • The water is so low, I’m barely getting wet …

  • I can just dip my toes in …

  • It’s too cold to go all the way in …

Shallow means a lack of commitment in a way.

Staying in the shallow end means it looks like the person is in the water, but they are only in a wee bit.

There’s little risk in shallow.

Think about the deep end.

I nearly drowned once as a kid after getting pushed into the deep end of a pool. Maybe I wasn’t in danger and maybe I was. I can’t recall, having no way to go back in time to see it happen.

I certainly don’t want to feel it again.

But in some ways, I do still feel it: I can’t open my eyes under water, not even in the shower; if the water runs over my face for too long, I get that anxious feeling and have to step out of it and wipe my face free.

I was at the bottom, or again so it feels in my memories, and a friend pulled me out (Pam, that was you, wasn’t it?). I could have died. Or not — people say the reflex for survival kicks in. However, I remember just being stunned, not able to find air. I stayed there, not a single reflex wiggling much less kicking.

I don’t go near the deep end of the pool and don’t do particularly well in the shallows either, truth be told. Because there’s fear out there.

I spent time last year, trying to teach myself to float. I was a bit successful but not to the point I’d trust myself to actually do it.

Give me floaties, or give me death!

For some reason, I don’t feel the same fear in the ocean.

The last time I was in ocean water, I fell — a wave hit me and knocked me down. I went under and had that moment where my brain said What if you can’t stand? What if you can’t get out and find air again?

It passed.

I stood.

And I stayed in the water, which was up to my waist or so.

It happened in the Pacific Ocean: it’s full of sea grass and kelp, which is like alien vegetation. If you’ve never seen it, touched it, I can’t explain. You’ll have to experience it.

And if you have — if the Pacific (or similar oceans full of sea grass and kelp) is all you know of the ocean, you’ll likely think me mad for being creeped out by it.

The Atlantic Ocean, my home ocean, doesn’t have that.

We have jellyfish, which are just as alien as sea grass and kelp. They all slip up on you, when you are unaware and busy, getting a feel for the water swirling and smashing around you, as you feel the pull of sand from beneath your feet, leaving you with just enough in the shape of your toes. They are there: the jellyfish with their stinging and the sea grass and kelp with their grabbing arms. All designed to get you, farther into the deep, farther away from safety.

These days, social media has become an ocean of deadly shallow waters. The jellyfish, sea grass, and kelp — the aliens — have been replaced by people. People who stay on the surface, for whom relationships are a passing smiley face or thumbs up, a snide comment tossed without care. A mirage of joyful lifestyles that hide the true nightmare of their day to day dealings off-line.

The deep has been drained, or left to rot.

Relationships happen in 140 characters or less, or they don’t happen at all.

If you leave the shallows, if you walk away from social media, you might find me.

I’m out here, willing to do more than offer an emoji.

I’m out here, willing to write a letter — a proper, with a stamp and everything, letter.

I’m willing to laugh with you, talk to and listen with you.

I find I don’t like the shallows at all anymore, either.

I’ve gone in the deep. And you’re always welcome.

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