Get in the Water
I asked a friend visiting the island what he wanted to do. And he replied that he wanted to “go to the beach.” And when I heard this turn of phrase, like I do sometimes, I weighed any potential benefit of telling him that its more customary to say “get in the water” or “get in the ocean” than to say “go to the beach” against the potential downside of sounding a little snooty or just correcting something that doesn’t need correcting. And in the end, partly because I knew it would make my friend happy, I let him know the more common turn of phrase.
And I was right, it did make him happy…happy to make fun of me. In good-natured ways throughout his visit he corrected himself, apologizing to me comically for using such a continental expression, and we laughed. Perhaps a bigger joke for me was that a kid from Connecticut (me), who attended a prominent university in that state, was correcting his friend, a kid from Massachusetts, who attended a slightly less prominent university in that state (sorry, Harvard), about what is culturally appropriate in a culture so far, both literally and figuratively, from both of their cultures of birth.
But the feeling I have when I mention things like “get in the water” is less like teaching someone the school rules and more like an older student letting a younger student know where things are at the school. We are both students. It’s just that one of us has been here a little longer.
When I arrived here myself, a friend took it upon himself to show me some of the most important parts of the island, explaining some of its history. Even on this tour, though, he explained that he didn’t want me making the mistakes he did when he arrived. And he also said something to the effect of, “If you’re going to go around telling people we’re friends, there are some mistakes I can’t have you making.” I know his comment held concern about his own reputation, but it also held concern about my own wellbeing. Sometimes those things go together.
That friend who took me around the island, so concerned for me, had to move away for work a while ago. We were talking this week and I explained that I’m feeling really good, despite the worries so much of the world holds. And he said, “That’s the island. She takes care of us even when we can’t ourselves. I miss it.” And only the next day, getting in the water, splashing and playing with my visiting friend, it only took him a few hours to say, “I get it. I get why this place is special.”
There are no words, there are no customs that can teach us what is at the heart of a feeling shared by someone who spends more than half their life here and someone who has been here for two hours. But laughing a little with (at) one another, going with the flow of a spirit in a place that so many of us have only just glimpsed in our lives, just getting in the water…that’s a good start.
And may it ever be so.
Rev. T. J.