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Ever since I was a child I’ve had a recurring dream. In the dream, I am falling from a place high up into a deep body of water underneath. I always know before I fall that I am going to, and, much as I try to avoid falling, I always do. There’s never a big splash—in fact I can’t say I remember the actual moment of impact, but I am terrified while falling and then I find myself underwater, light shining somewhere far above me.

Truth is, I’m not afraid of water, quite the contrary. But, you know, dreams can never be taken too literally, and the metaphor is rather obvious, isn’t it.

Last week I was in London and I dreamed “the dream” again, except it was all wrong. There were height and water, but neither fear nor anxiety. I dove into the water and emerged right away. I begun swimming, and while the waters were rough and it was cold, I just knew that if only I kept swimming, somewhere ahead I would find myself in a safe place. The irony of being on an island, albeit a large one, was not lost on me.

Even though Europe is the continent where I was born and grew up, I don’t much know many of the places I find myself in these days, most things are foreign and new and somewhat different. I spent the last ten days without landmarks, navigating with maps that I drew in little notebooks, decoding characters on coins that I do not recognize by sight or touch and crossing bridges over waters with unfamiliar names.

As I think about the choices I am contemplating, about the consequences that are the flip side of the possibilities straight ahead, I look at the water in front of me —a pool this time, and consider its meaning in my life.

I grew up landlocked, in a city that I will never stop loving and pining for, but that I don’t know if I can ever return to. It has canals and artificial basins that were never quite enough. Every other place I lived or spent a significant amount of time in has been on a coast or had at least a river. Moving water, alive.

Which is exactly the point, you see. It doesn’t matter whether you live in a tsunami-warning zone or on the riverbanks, so long as you dive in and swim. And if you are thalassophobic you just have to remember that under all the water there always is a bottom. Also, that once you’ve reached bottom you can only go back up.

Filed under: Maps, Thoughts, Travel


  • Reply Jill Jensen |

    Found myself quoting this post last night while out to dinner with friends. Thanks for the reminder to “dive in and swim”.

    • Reply alberta |

      You’re very welcome. We all, myself included, should remember that, terrifying as it maybe, it really is the only way to live.

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