The Line of a Shallow Wave


Nobody ever taught me to swim. I’m not very good at it. When I was four years old I watched my Dad dive effortlessly into a pool and was so compelled by his grace that I promptly left my mother’s side and followed him off the pool’s edge. Having not known to hold my breath, I quickly sank to the bottom of the pool where a family friend heroically retrieved me. A few years later, when I finally mustered the courage to again leave the shallow end of a different pool, I remembered to hold my breath. I put my head under the water, surged forward about three feet and then urgently, and with some disorientation, turned back and surfaced with a premature gasp that left me coughing and sputtering, red-eyed and embarrassed. I might have been six or seven years old by then. I’m better at it now, but by no means would I call myself a strong swimmer. I fail to fall into that steady rhythm of breath that practiced swimmers display with such apparent ease, exhaling below the surface through several strokes, and inhaling for a brief moment above it. Instead, having given up on submersion, I keep my head above the water the entire time, turning it from side to side with each inept stroke while my legs trail confusedly behind me. After twenty to thirty of these I turn onto my back where I spend the remainder of my time, peacefully deafened by the water filling my ears, staring through the silence at a reoriented sky, and carefully feigning relaxation with each half-exhaled breath. I reach past my head, and pull myself through the water to stay afloat. I pause only when my lungs are filled to bursting.


There was a crow today, flying among the skeletal trees outside my window. Between every thrust of her wings she fell for a moment, and by the next thrust of her wings she recovered. I don’t know the particulars of the flight patterns of crows, whether they differ depending on the wind, or the crow’s elevation, or the direction the crow is flying, but this particular crow flew in a wave, rising and falling with every beat. There is a moment in this wave of flight when the crow reaches her apex. For a moment, she is suspended without effort. She has not yet begun to fall, but nor is she rising. She continues to move forward, but her vertical position is in suspense. The moment passes, and so she descends, and there too there is the antithesis of an apex, though its nature is entirely different. At the top of the wave, the crow ceases to rise because the exerted force of her moving wings is spent. Gravity becomes the dominant force, and so she begins to fall. The turning point at the bottom of the wave, however, is not a result of the inherence of the environment. Rather, the crow only ceases to fall because the crow wills not to.


There have been times in my life when I have conceded to the slow descent of an absent will. Unlike the crow, whose descent upon ceasing to flap her wings is soon ended by the ground below, my own descent can feel at times limitless. It begins simply; often nothing more than an apathetic thought, that gives reason to an apathetic feeling, that results in the absence of an act. Days might pass, or months, or years. For every reason to act, there are several reasons not to and as I resign to a version of my life that demands little from me and offers nothing of the dreams I once had for myself, my priorities shift away from my true aspirations and begin to dwell in the status quo where comfort takes precedence over growth, and security takes precedence over movement. I’ll admit that these have not been happy times, though happiness is always the claimed intent. I’ll admit that the slow descent of resignation always begins to feel most normal just before the forgotten ground flashes before my eyes. It is then that I awake to the vague recollection of an aspired ascent.


I have pursued my dreams, but I have often failed to continue my pursuit of them through to their realization. I’ve depended on the momentum of a courageous first step, or the hope that that first step would yield immediate results. I’ve felt inspired at the apex of the wave, and upon descending failed to resume the required action. I’ve been lost in the desire for euphoria, and like a spoiled child, I’ve abandoned the work when it stopped being fun. Dreams, unlike fantasy, do not exist in order to offer an escape from our reality. They exist to show us a vision of what we are meant to actualize within our reality. They are the work we are meant to do. Pursuing our dreams must involve the will to do so, but if that will is one in flux, or one dependent on the emotional rewards of reaching previously unknown heights, we will exhaust ourselves merely by the imperative to continually decide whether or not we will go on. We will reach the inevitable lows and have to decide from that difficult and biased perspective whether our dreams are still worth pursuing.


I watch the crow fly the line of a shallow wave, rising and falling like a beating heart. She flaps her wings each time her body begins to fall. It elevates her, but never to permanence. No single thrust is enough to move her beyond gravity’s pull. But although she repeats this movement again and again, and though her body continues to respond to the inevitable descent, her flight is not an endlessly repeated question of will. In the lowest point of her flight she does not suffer an existential crisis wherein she must summon the will to flap her wings again lest she hit the ground. Rather, her governing will, which is to fly, makes the decision automatic. Her body responds, knowing that the decision has already been made.


Our dreams are treasured things. We hold them close and we hold them tightly. We conceal them in veiled pursuits, or burry them with the distant thought of a later resurrection. We value them, and yet rarely do we ever allow their value to be revealed. Our dreams are not meant to exist as private thoughts, to be treated as fantasy when our days become mundane. Nor are they meant to haunt us for our failure to achieve them. They are not childish whims, nor haphazard follies. They are our true calling. We keep looking for meaning outside of ourselves while all the while there exists within us such beautiful impetus to act. All the while, our purpose in this life is already written in our hearts. We need only the will to follow it.


Against my own will, the varying winds of dissembled fear are quick to press. Behind masks of apathy, self-doubt, and cynicism, fear offers a peaceful exit, a host of reasons why a pursued dream is better abandoned early, before the scale of possible failure becomes too large. It reminds me that my dreams are unachievable, that I will inevitably fail, and that in failing I will lose my chance to declare my value as a person. And so my dreams ask that I not only try, but that my will to try would not be contingent on the immediate outcome of my attempts. My dreams ask that when I reach the point furthest from my apex, I would not resign to despair, but that I would see the value and even the beauty in reaching that depth, and that I would remember that it is in that very moment when I begin to ascend once again.


The crow alights upon the naked limb of the birch outside my door. She lets out a strange thread of amusing noises and I can’t imagine what these noises mean. She alights, which is to say that though her will is to fly, fatigue can ruin the most willful of dreamers. I speak of flight and the pursuit of dreams, of the importance of enduring moments of doubt and submitting to my own governing will, but I must also make allowances for my humanness and not confuse a momentary reprieve with the cessation of some pursued dream. I must be willing to rest or I will fall to the ground, not from a lack of will, but from pure exhaustion.

– C


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