by Sheryl Mendlinger
In a recent blog post, What’s with the Water, Carrie Bornstein asks us to reflect on how water has been an agent of change in our lives. There are several of those moments in my lifetime when water has given me those ‘moments of awe.’ I have always felt that water is my safe haven and comfort zone.
For as long ago as I can remember, I have always loved the feeling of being submerged in water. In 1969 at the age of 18, when I was studying on a Youth Leadership program in Israel, Machon L’Madrichei Chutz La’Aretz, we traveled to Eilat over the Chanukah week. That first time I snorkeled in the Red Sea, among the coral and multitude of schools of fishes, I learned to stay afloat, quietly listening to my rhythmic breathing through the snorkel, and feeling the coolness of the water surrounding my body. Before my wedding in Rehovot, Israel, in 1972, as required of all brides in the country, I went to the mikveh for the first time. I still remember, even though it will soon be 44 years, the sense of euphoria, as I submerged myself, reciting the prayers, at this new beginning stage in my life as a married woman.
For many years swimming has been a part of my daily morning routine for exercise and relaxation.
In 1994, I was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer and underwent a lumpectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatment. As I wrote in my book, Schlopping: Developing Relationships, Self-Image and Memories, “For me shopping was the reconfirmation of life after I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of forty-three. My way of coping was to return to normalcy as soon as possible. I went back to work less than two weeks post-surgery and returned to my morning swimming routine as soon as the stitches and staples were removed.”
My safe haven has always been in the swimming pool. As I immerse myself in the swishing water I seem to be put in another world as I glide along the waves in a rhythmic breathing pattern, in and out, using the breast stroke or the crawl, back or side stroke. The movement, the controlled breathing, the feeling that I am encumbered by water somehow gives me a strong sense of security. Maybe it’s the return to the womb, or maybe the feeling of just the water, the salt water, the chlorine water, the lake water, the warmth or coolness against my body. It’s my time for me to do whatever I want without disturbance. It helped me survive the chemotherapy.
Each day before treatment, I would wake up and go for my luxurious swim which gave me time for relaxation, retrospection and preparation for what was coming in the next few hours. My physical and emotional rehabilitation during those many months was through swimming. I’ll never forget getting in the pool, less than two weeks after my first surgery, as soon as the staples were removed. I bought a foam board to help me swim, since my right arm lacked full mobility, and I slowly needed to get the muscles working again. I wondered when I would feel normal again, but as the days and weeks and months passed, eventually my arm was healed and I was back to being the fish in water I’ve been since I was 3 or 4 years-old.
The water, my savior; the water, my purification; the enveloping feeling of security that it gives me each time anew. I feel a rebirth, a new life, the enjoyment of swimming, feeling the water move around me, the movement of the synchronization of all my body that works together to glide me across the pool. Water, mayyim, has always given me strength, comfort, and a strong sense of tranquility.
Sheryl E. Mendlinger, PhD, is an author, advocate for women’s health, daughter, wife, mother, and grandmother. She co-authored, with her daughter Yael Magen, Schlopping (schlep+love+shopping): Developing Relationships, Self-Image and Memories, a book about finding answers to life’s challenges through schlepping with a loved one while shopping. Sheryl’s expertise is intergenerational transmission of knowledge and health behaviors in mother-daughter dyads from multicultural populations with a focus on menstruation.