Action plus Bravenness

It’s nearly 30 degrees Celsius, the sky is as blue as it can get and it’s one of the first hot summer days in New Zealand. So, with togs on, chilli bin filled and two director chairs in the back of the car we head for the beach.

Map Te Ngaere Bay

Te Ngaere Bay is one of our preferred beaches and within half an hour we sit under the Pohutukawa tree we consider ours and watch the surf roll in.

The Pohutukawa tree has great significance in New Zealand. It flowers around Christmas with bright red, spikey flowers and is therefore considered by many a replacement for the good old Christmas tree. There’s no chopping required, no need to keep it moist and adorning it with tinsel and stars would be an offence. It stays where it belongs and, at the height of summer, beautifies many a beach around the country.

Pohutukawa Tree

Sitting under that flowering tree watching life go by, I was taken back to my parents who, more than fifty years ago, would frequently go on a Sunday drive and, after arriving at their destination, unload the car, spread out the picnic blanket and relax. It wouldn’t take long before my father would get up, unfold one of the metal chairs with faded blue canvas and from a place in the shade observe our doings. He was a serious man who’d had a very strict upbringing, he also had a heart problem and was often tired. Just sitting and watching the world go by was a pleasure he fully enjoyed, if only his four children plus cousins, nieces, and taggers-on would behave.

My mother, on the other hand, often claimed she hadn’t had any upbringing as her mother died when she was seven and her father too busy with keeping his children fed. Her older sisters took care of her but because they were in their late teens and much more interested in their fiancés than my mother, she could often do as she pleased. Over the years they all married and welcomed her into their homes but she quickly got tired of their interference and frequently moved house to go and live with another sister. Rotating amongst her siblings she skipped rules and regulations.

Watching the deep blue sea, my thoughts went back to the days of my own childhood in The Netherlands and how amazing it was that I was sitting here on a New Zealand beach so beautiful I couldn’t have conjured it up. If anybody had told me as a kid that one day I would be living on a Pacific Island and frequently swim at one of the most beautiful beaches on earth, I wouldn’t have believed it.

With the December holiday started hardly anybody is around

Getting up and walking along the shoreline, I thought of my mother and how she loved to swim. Born under the star sign Aquarius, she really felt like a fish in the water. Cold or warm, she would dive in without much ado and while we were still putting our toes in the water, gauging the temperature, she would wave and urge us to hurry up because it was so beautiful.

Each of us learnt to swim at an early age. Though we didn’t live near the sea, there were plenty of streams we could go to and occasionally she would take us to the large canal where she knew a few hidden spots from where we could ‘safely’ access the water.

My mother’s ‘safe’ was not everybody’s ‘safe’ but any comments on her brazenness or putting her children in danger were wiped aside as too much molly coddling. ‘Kids need experience,’ she would reply, ‘they need to learn their boundaries and how will they learn if they can’t try them out?’ In the process we learnt to quickly scramble on to the steep sides of the canal making sure we were away from the wall before the large waves from the wake of passing barges could sweep us away and we navigated a zillion other life’s lessons. She surely had us practicing.

We learnt at an early age that making mistakes prepares you for not being afraid of failure. Unashamedly we dived, not only in the water but in all the things life has to offer and failed many a time, but so what? We learnt a lot of lessons and besides, there’s always another opportunity. After a few weeks of cringing and wanting to crawl under the carpet we got up and headed for a new challenge.

My father not always agreed, or more correctly often disagreed with my mother’s way of bringing up their offspring. He would bark: ‘those kids of yours have/are/did…, ‘(fill in the offence) if we’d crossed the line, but on those Sunday afternoons he watched us with a gentle smile as we horsed around the playing ground.

Why do I write all this? To me, it all comes back to action and braveness. Walking along the beach, I remembered my mother teaching us to swim. Not in the water- that came later – but on an old, raggedy kitchen chair. After ordering us to put our bellies on the seat with our limbs sticking out on both sides, she would instruct us on how to move our arms and legs in synchronicity while she ironed Monday’s washing or cooked dinner. ‘Heels together,’ she would call if we got sloppy or chant in a steady rhythm: ‘IN… AND OUT…,’ regulating our movements. We had great fun and readily complied.

Learning to swim on a kitchen seat seems an unlikely way of doing things but it worked. Once in the water, we knew exactly what to do. Holding her hand under our belly, as if it were the seat, we would swim away thinking we had it all under control. And within a short time, we had. We knew what to do, we’d practised the movements and knew the drill. It was confidence that made us kick harder and stretch out our arms further to conquer the water. Without us knowing it she would take away her hand and step back. And man…, did those first independent swims make us proud.

 Wading with my feet in the still chilly water, I suddenly became aware of the similarity between swimming and writing. Nobody is born as a swimmer and nobody is born as a writer. If you want to swim you need to practice. You have to dry-swim before you get into the water, imagining the movements and carrying them out. It’s no different from writing. You need to practice, practice, practice. Imagining the story and practising the actions you’ll learn that there is a rhythm to the movements of your thoughts and that eventually, they will carry forth your ideas. Your muscle memory influences your brain. If you write and write and write, your writing-muscle will translate your emotions and your writing becomes second nature. Your words are carrying your ideas and feelings and, without notice, you and your medium have become one.

I didn’t swim today as the water was still a bit too cold for my taste. As clearly as if she were there, I saw my mother, scolding me for ignoring the call of the sea. But then again, in my defence, I had other things to do: getting out my mobile, recording my thoughts and feelings and later, back home, writing them down. If she could read them, I’m sure my impressions would make her smile.

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