When I set off on my long-distance swim three months ago, I stepped into the surf and headed into the unknown water of brain surgery like a swimmer being carried by rapids over the steep falls ahead, hoping that I'd survive the drop and emerge safely in the calm pool of water below.
Weeks later, the first time that I sat down to write after the surgery, my head still sore and my thinking still woozy from the fall, I felt lost in a fog bank, disoriented, not sure which way to go, or whether to go at all.
I held a pen in my hand but it felt like a foreign object. I didn't have the strength or energy to sit at my desk. I was disconsolate, wanting to write but not knowing how to get back into the water. It felt as if my depth-perception had changed. I couldn't tell the difference between shallow and deep water.
For weeks I stayed on shore and watched other writers swimming, afraid to go into the water myself. I read a lot. I listened to books on tape. I was blessed with a loving wife and family who cared for me as I recuperated on shore. So many people called, sent get well notes and gifts. Friends drove over to keep me company. We drank lots of herbal tea, and we ate lots of homemade brownies and banana bread.
When I started writing again it was to send brief notes of gratitude to the people who had done so much to help me recuperate and regain my strength and balance. Everyone's willingness to share stories reminded me of my own love of stories and of the magic of words to bring people together in mysterious ways.
This is my roundabout way of saying thank you to everyone for the prayers and good wishes sent for my recovery. But it's also a note of gratitude to the many writers who I've never met but whose postings (on Facebook or Twitter or elsewhere online) and whose books have kept me afloat over the past few months. Even as I floundered on the shallows after the surgery, unsure if I'd ever have the strength or desire to write again, I sensed the shadow of your presence in the water as you kept writing, kept believing in the power of words and the magic of storytelling.
I don't know what form wordswimmer's posts will take in the weeks and months ahead. Brief snippets of inspiration? Long letters of frustration and disappointment? Links to other blogs? Quotes to help us all stay in the water ? I'll have to wait and see what the water feels like each week. Maybe I'll dive in. And maybe I'll prefer to stay dry and gather my strength for the next week's swim or the next. As Theodore Roethke writes: "I learn, by going, where I have to go."
Little by little I'm making my way back into the water, but it takes patience and time. My fingers remembering how to type. My brain remembering how to form words. My imagination remembering the pleasure of telling stories. What's important, most of all, is the intention to swim.
I hope you'll keep writing. You never know how your words inspire others to stay in the water and keep swimming, but I can tell you that your words and stories matter. I know this because your comments and postings and notes and stories and poems have inspired me.
The proof is here: I'm in the water. Swimming with words again.