Finding Comfort in Unexpected Places: the Value of Going Back to Our Roots

A few months ago, I had to ransack the apartment to find a few items I'd never have misplaced several years ago. Things that were a significant part of my routine. I've got an "organized chaos" method for storing things; things go "away," but generally in unexpected and illogical places.

I was pretty sure my black Nike swimsuit lived in a crate with gloves since I moved into my most recent apartment. The caps and goggles sat buried under a bunch of random things in the coffee table. For the first time in four years, I stuffed them in a bag along with a giant towel and went for a swim.

I can't remember the last time I was in a pool prior to one drab Tuesday this past January. I started swimming at age 9 and swam year round through my senior year of college. Thirteen years of doing anything, of committing that amount of time and energy to anything, is still beyond my comprehension.

I raced with a masters team once in Alaska the winter I lived there, then stopped again. I jumped in with the Fins Aquatic Club when I first moved to Philly in the midst of a search for something to make me feel at home here. I only went to a handful of practices before deciding I wasn't ready to be a competitive swimmer again. It felt great to be in the water and among people who also had a passion for a sport that had been one of my life's focuses, but I didn't miss it enough. I'd get a lump in my stomach midday before practice, trying to come up with reasons not to go. Instead, I found new friends by following my passion for playing outside.

At my first swim meet in years, January 2012.
And then I met Holly. Holly's the kind of person you can't help wanting to be around all the time. Her zest for life, her positive energy and enthusiasm are palatable, even if you're just meeting her for the first time. She's gone out of her way to help me and to help others. Her generosity and selflessness are qualities I know I can only hope to emulate. Every other post on her facebook wall is from someone thanking her, telling her they miss her, or asking her for advice about anything and everything related to fitness...because she's as fit as they come.

One drab Tuesday this winter, thanks to encouragement from Holly, I took a dip in the pool at the only public gym in Center City, Philadelphia that has a pool. The pool is small, only 24.2 yards long, resembles a dungeon with lipstick and has two lane lines for four narrow lap lanes. But when I put on my suit, slid the cap over my head and jumped in, I teared up. I felt the breath leave my lungs as the cold water shocked my skin and was surprised how well my body remembered what to do. I couldn't believe how familiar it felt and how much I needed something that felt that way. No matter how long I go between laps, swimming will always feel like home.

As we move through life and as we learn and grow, the new experiences we have shape who we become. Our interests change, we meet new people, we visit new places and our worlds expand. These are all beautiful, wonderful things. But it's so comforting to know that no matter where we go or who we meet, there are things we can rely on that take us back; things that remind us of where we came from and how we arrived where we are. Staying in touch with those things can make dealing with life's curve balls significantly easier.

That day of swimming reminded me that when I feel lost, I've got something I can do to feel grounded again. It's a feeling I didn't expect, but am so glad to have felt.

I swam approximately 2,000 yards that day, then went back two more times throughout the course of that week. I had no expectations of how fast (or slow) I'd be, or of how I should feel in the water. I just swam for the sake of swimming, and loved it. I even let Holly talk me to sign up for a masters swim meet with less than two weeks to get back in the water. I waffled, but agreed, and competed in several events with my little "team." Our goal was to enjoy the sport, enjoy each other and just have fun, clock be damned. And it worked.

When you're looking for comfort, what part of your past is it easiest for you to find it in? Is it in a person? A place? A sport? I'd love to hear how you go back to your roots.


Mountains. Always the mountains. If I'm having a bad day or a rough month for that matter, all it takes is a quick trip up the hill for everything to feel alright.

Or, if I don't have that kind of time, I'll take Tals for a walk. Something about her furry little face and wiggling butt always makes me smile :)
k8tlevy said…
It's great you've got not one, but two places to go to feel better, and that one of them is always accessible on short notice :)
Meghan J. Ward said…
I've had a potential blog title sitting on my 'list' of ideas for The Campsite since July...and it's all about going back to my roots. It has yet to be written, and after reading this one, I realize I had better get on it! I spent some time back at a cottage in Ontario in July and was really reminded of the things you write about here - the importance of returning to our roots. The process does remind us of somethings that were once so important to us, some of which still are but have been left behind at times or forgotten. 

Getting back in that pool took courage. I think these things are hard for us sometimes because we've often felt a bit of grief over leaving a part of our lives behind. They are always there for us to 'dive into' (literally) again, but it can feel a bit like ripping off a BandAid when we do. There is a sense of familiarity, like seeing an old friend, and an awkwardness when we realize we aren't the same person any more. 

Loving your reflections. :) Keep on it.  
k8tlevy said…
 Thanks so much, Meghan! I'd love to read about your roots and what you discovered going back to Ontario. Let me know when you get that written!

I think you summed it up perfectly - there's an awkwardness, a level of discomfort, when we realize that we've changed so much. I knew swimming would always be a part of me, but jumping back in, it felt both familiar and sad. It was sad to know I'd become so removed from it. It feels the same way when I go to back to my hometown; after living there for 22 years, then moving on, it's strange to know I've changed so much, but the town is still basically the same!