The sea was sparkling, glistening, dazzling – all the of adjectives to describe an inviting body of water that I knew I could not resist. I’d been lying on the beach in the sun, melting into the sand, my eyes kept flittering shut but I was trying to stay awake enough to respond my niece and nephew’s chatter.
I knew that it would be cold, even in the height of summer I could only last about half an hour before I’d need to get out to warm up my insides, but I had to dive in.
I ran across the sand and dove into the water head first to the shouts of my niece, ‘woah, so fast’ (it wasn’t really that fast!) The initial sensation as I went under was a wave of pure rejuvenation. An awakening of the mind. This lasted a couple of seconds before I felt my body go into shock. A panic mode. I felt as if my brain paused. All the air came out of my lungs, sped up by my repeated use of the word ‘Fuck’ ‘fuck. fuck. fuck’ and I couldn’t take another breath; or manage to convince myself to let any air in. I imagined my lungs had collapsed. My usual reaction to cold water would be swim faster, thrash against the biting, sharp sensations I was feeling throughout my body in an attempt to warm myself up. But at this temperature I fought against this instinct, and instead took a pause, to make my mind convince my physical body that this situation was okay and stay calm, and equilibrate, regulate itself. I moved slowly, acknowledging the tingling, painful sensations in my fingers, my toes, but not giving in to them, I slowly took a breathe, filling up my lungs and imagined feeling the warm air moving through my body, heating up my organs.
Near me was an old man floating on his back, face up, occasionally moving himself with his arms, peaceful and calm. He’d been there in the water for the 30 minutes I’d be out lying in the sun on the beach, almost at one with the sand. His peacefulness convinced me not to run out of the water, but to continue slowly moving forward in a breaststroke motion for a minute of two.
Going into the water I felt like a sloth, having to peel myself off the beach thanks to the midday Banyuls sun. I came out the water invigorated, charged with energy, feeling so alive I wanted to burst and I started babbling at how incredible the icy cool water was. My whole body was pulsing intensely. I could see the blood pumping furiously and deeply to every inch, every finger and toe, trying to regulate my body temperature.
I finally understood why the ‘crazy old people’ (my 8 year old words) I’d pass en route to primary school would swim in the cold sea each morning. Give me this hit any day, every day.
April 2017, Banyuls-sur-mer, Southern France