This Cuba Swim plays on a myriad of levels. No getting around the pure athletic endeavor. Swimmers of all ilk trying since 1950, including yours truly.
For me, it's a life-affirming quest, reminding me to reach for the stars, to tap one's finest potential, regardless the outcome.
But the sea itself, the backdrop, the center stage of the quest, is metaphor unto itself.
The vastness, the mystery, the power. To be immersed in the liquid of our Earth, in some ways trained and strong enough to glide along its surface for more than 100 long, long miles... and yet so small and insignificant under the pulling moon and tides, large predator sharks lurking within view below, the deadliest of all sea creatures, the Box Jellyfish, swarming en masse each ebony night.
The brain can't function normally, after the continuous hours of duress. Hallucinations take you far, far away and the unconscious surfaces, as if dreaming while still wide awake, still automatically stroking.
This is not road cycling. Nor mountain climbing. Nor space travel. It is immersion in the ocean. There is a life force that imbues the spirit. The imagination is taken back through all the evolution of mankind, back to when we were all swimmers, not land beasts.
I am fortunate this summer to be beneficiary of yet another Key West generous individual. I am staying in my friend Wendy's lovely cottage, appointed with interesting art and graced with gentle light. When it rains, I read on the porch. And each time I enter the cottage, I am stilled by a photograph. Here it is. A grainy black and white image of a man, contemplating the sea and its horizon. Etched into the handsome wood of the photograph is a line from Pablo Neruda's "Ode to Salt."
"I know you won't believe me, but it sings. Salt sings... dust of the Sea in you the tongue receives a kiss from Ocean night... in it, we taste infinitude."
Yes, that's it. Even going back to the 1970's when I last spent all these hours communing with the ocean, I have never been able to express the deep emotion I feel out there, way out there, when sensory deprivation reduces clarity, when the metronome of the hundreds of thousands of breaths and strokes takes the mind to subliminal poetry and philosophy, when turning skyward reveals a dance of the stars that plays out in hallucinatory human dimensions. It's infinitude I am tasting. That's it. Infinitude.
All the souls who have lived and loved before us. All those that will follow. The treasure that is our Blue Planet. The wonder that is our human existence. It's all written there in the sapphire blue of the ocean. It's infinitude.
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