Tonight, on the eve of the eve of my first day at the SCA, I went for a cycle ride.
It wasn’t a ride intended to let me reflect or ruminate on my impending new life. I just had a headache and needed the fresh air.
I cycled along the coast to Cooden Beach, a pleasant seaside suburb for wealthy retirees.
It was after 8pm, and getting dark. I cycled across a quiet stretch of road directly next to the beach which had no houses or street lamps.
I stopped for a moment, and was suddenly astonished by the beauty of the scene in front of me.
The sky was pink, the moon was one day shy of a full super-moon. The sea, amber from the moon’s reflection, was also as still as you are ever likely to see it.
Now when you tell people that don’t live by the sea that you do, they normally remark that you are lucky.
But in the whole 3 years since I moved back to my hometown Hastings, I haven’t swum in the sea once.
I suddenly felt the urge to do so. The conditions were just too right.
I walked down the beach and stripped off. Upon furtively dipping a foot in the water, I was amazed to find it wasn’t cold at all, totally lukewarm.
I waded in up to my waist and prepared to dive in headfirst.
I suddenly felt a feeling that was totally alien to me in this context. Hesitation.
When I was a teen, I used to jump off Hastings Pier fully clothed without compunction.
Now, I was incredulous with myself as I tried to understand that I had somehow grown a phobia of the sea in the long stretch of time I hadn’t been in it. Maybe it was just the darkness, me being alone on an unfamiliar beach.
But I stood there for a good 5 minutes hesitating. I had all sorts of crazy, wild, totally unrealistic ideas of the dangers that lurked below.
This was a huge disappointment to myself. For a while I’ve had the idea that when I‘m a bit older, I might like to live an active lifestyle focussed around the sea, swimming and surfing. I imagined I could be at one with the ocean.
Embarrassingly, I have just rediscovered the 1997 song “Underwater Love” by Smoke City, made famous after appearing in a Levi’s commercial. I’ve become quite fond of lilting to myself the lyrics:
“O que que é esse amor, d’água”.
In my own mind, I was some kind of underwater legend.
Reality confirmed this was not the case.
Had it really been so long since I stepped outside my comfort zone, challenged myself? Had I become complacent, vicariously living the dream of the life aquatic through popular culture? It’s a question I’m still asking myself as I type.
I eventually dived in. Salt water rushed up my nose, the tide pushed against me in a way that I didn’t recall from the effortlessly proficient swimming of my teens. It wasn’t really that graceful.
I continued, hoping that after time I would become comfortable, let go, and become like all other God’s creatures that were in the sea around me.
It didn’t really come. I became a bit more comfortable, but not totally.
I guess what I realised is, life isn’t always poetic.
It may not always be the case of just “diving in head first” and you’ve conquered the hardest part.
You may well spend a good amount of time thrashing around, weakly paddling, afraid to swim out much further.
I expect this to be the case at the SCA. You might find yourself daunted by the uncertain world you are about to plunge into. And when you do dive in, you might be disappointed to find your fear and reservations do not immediately recede. Your stroke may not be sufficient at certain times.
But at least you will be swimming around, rather than watching from the side wishing that you were.
(I have created a playlist of songs that remind me of dusk. Have a listen if you like. I didn’t include “Underwater Love” because it’s kind of corny: https://play.spotify.com/user/1116188376/playlist/6ZMFs3tpk6v4x8CpsfIPxs )