Until I moved to Virginia, the term “brackish water” wasn’t a part of my vocabulary. I had visited oceans with crashing waves and salt-laden shores. I had spent time splashing in the fresh water Great Lakes and watching barges push along the muddy Mississippi. I had floated down the Missouri on inner tubes and basked in the cool river currents during the heat of Midwest summers. Yet, I had never navigated brackish waters.
The little cinder block beach cabin on an estuary of the Chesapeake Bay was an accidental find while I was trying to locate an affordable beach rental for a weekend family get-away. I went through several searches of private and public listings, hoping to find some rental of less than a week that was available in late summer and didn’t cost half my summer salary. Quite accidentally, I booked a beach house in a different town than I had intended. We researched the destination and somewhat hesitantly tried out the not-quite-beach, not-quite-river location. Instead, for us, it was both. Now, it’s our yearly escape, a pilgrimage marking the end of summer and ushering in a new year of school for a family of teachers and students. Like the brackish water of the bay, it has also become our place in-between.
I was thinking about the nature of brackish water today as I submersed myself into its depths. It was nearing high tide, and the sun began to burn through the overcast clouds of the morning. It has been a cooler than usual summer, and the water was surprisingly chilly for the south. I hesitated briefly as I waded, then quickly decided to go all in, swimming past the seaweed of the cove and out past the rocky barriers demarcating the shallow tidal basin. I swam just past the point where my toes could touch the bottom. There, I extended my legs downward, stretched out my arms, and turned my face to the sky. I was carried completely in this position by the waves of the tides, the currents of the river and the slight salinity of this place where fresh water and salt water converge.
Brackish water is neither purely fresh water, nor salt water. It’s name was purportedly derived from the Dutch brak meaning “salty.” But, I can also imagine that after an accidental mouthful of something assumed to be drinkable, people would wildly shake their heads after spitting it out, with mouth still pursed, and pronounce it brackish simply by taste. Either way, the non-potable brackish waters of this particular place are nonetheless soothing to my soul, and nurturing to my spirit. Today, that was true more than ever.
As I floated, arms outstretched, I closed my eyes as the water carried me in a trusting embrace. As the brackish waters lapped around me, my head and my heart converged in the realization of how these waters are a metaphor for my life. For a long time, I thought of myself as living in a place where I was apart from belonging. Caught in the middle waters, I have spent various points in my life being neither religious nor atheist; neither practitioner nor researcher; neither straight nor gay; neither an only child nor a person with siblings; neither Christian nor Pagan; neither micro nor macro. In my profession, in my faith, in my living…I have often found myself on the journey in a place somewhere in-between. For a long time, I chose to wear my separateness as a badge of honor. It was also a way to distance myself from full belonging with either group for fear that I would be found out, rejected, considered an outsider. This was with good reason: it was a self-protective response to having been hurt, rejected, and not fully known nor understood.
But, as the brackish waters lapped around my floating form today, I could feel their fullness. My life, like these waters, has become a convergence. Currents cool and warm brushed my skin, and tidal pull and river current worked in tandem to keep me suspended, upright with arms extended in open welcome to the river and the sea. My brackish form, floating in brackish water welcomed the “Both/And” of this time in my life, echoing my soul’s belonging as I continue to unfold into simple, authentic being. I realized, without a hint of irony, that even my posture held the most archetypal symbolism of my Christianity surrounded simultaneously by every element of the natural world in which my spirit is nurtured in repose.
In my floating meditation, I heard a splash close by and saw a fish leaping and gleaming in the sunlight. As I closed my eyes again, another splash caught my attention over my other shoulder. I leaned in that direction, opening my eyes expecting to see another fish. Instead, a Great Blue Heron had lighted from the rocks to the water. Now only an arm’s length from me, the majestic bird met my gaze, stretched out its neck and dove deeply into the brackish waters in which we swam. We continued this dance, circling each other without fear or hesitation. We both belonged.
You don’t have to love the brackish waters. You may love the ocean’s rush, or the river’s constant flow. But the brackish nature of my being flourishes in this space between, where convergence produces wholeness in the intermingling of the waters. Here I belong; I am baptized into the fullness of embracing the Both/And of my being.
Radiant points of light, glistening on the brackish waters.