Baptism

April 29, 2007

I tell you if you have not swum in the northern Pacific Ocean it is a great experience. The greatest feeling in the world.


Today I was baptized for a second time. The choice was not mine. Some unknown force carried me. When I woke at the ninth hour it seemed a very natural thing for me to pack my swimming trunks with the rest of my bicycle gear. As I headed west to the ocean, full of grace, the sun smiled on me with all its perfect teeth reflected. God himself came out on this day, this fine morning, to oversee everything.

Once you pass the windmill off 48th avenue, you feel as though you’ve crossed the point of no return. The double doors of the cathedral swing open, in other words. A carpet of sand is spread before you. The only difficulty lies in crossing the barrier wall between the sidewalk and the sand. After that, the ocean font awaits, frozen before you.

I changed into the proper clothing, removing my shoes and socks, my shirt and pants. A curious crab scuttled towards me. He’d been in the water before so I imagine he didn’t think anything special of it. As for me, every friend warned me that the idea was a bad one, that the water here was not right, too cold, unmerciful, and a dozen other excuses. Not to mention the signs all along the beach that self-submersion was a bad idea, that only under the supervision of a watchful eye should such feats be attempted. The crab did not seem to mind being my guardian for the day.

Approaching the coos of the sea, sand crunched under each step. A leashless dog ran circles around herself, diving in and out of the water for her master’s amusement. I resolved to face this baptism with courage. This time I would not be able to clutch at my mother’s earrings. When my bare feet touched the moist shore, something shot through me. But it wasn’t pain, because that is a hot, stinging sensation. It was dullness, which is just as worse. My toes were dying from the cold. I did not cry. (There was a lot of crying the first time, too.)

With the dog and the crab watching I ran into the water and dove. Numbness. My knees buckled and I fell to my side, kicking. My fingers and toes wrinkled, my hairs stood, my penis shriveled. Once I found my balance, I glubbered. The popsicles attached to my body did not let me swim ashore. A larger wave approached and pushed me under a second time. This is it, I said. The signs were right, my friends were right. This was all a bad idea.

Having lost my sense of touch, being unable to breathe, shutting my mouth and not daring to open my eyes, I began to listen. Over the roar of the airplanes I heard the murmur of the sea: toooonvoooorheeessss. The water recedes and I stood and heard it once more, the sea, repeating to me, the only swimmer dumb enough to join with it – the sea chanting: teeerrraadzeeesheeesss.

Religion is not confined to tabernacles, altars, or submissions. I tell you that I saw the face of God in the sun, and what’s more, you can see it too. It takes no special trick to fall under the sway of a loving universe. One only needs to step outside and embrace the elements, the good and bad, the sun and the cancer, the sea and the pneumonia, the wind and the chaos, the plants and the weeds. And when a third wave came the caress of God lifted me up and brought me under gently, the chant of the sea continued, and the wind blew around me, but I was no longer cold, for I had become accustomed to it all, and said Behold!, and walked towards the land anew. As I fell back, grasping for air, I saw the clouds, in a fit of ecstasy, cross each other.

When I turned to exit I noticed then that graffiti was prevalent along the barrier wall that separated the sidewalk from the sand. Gang symbols, curse words. I shuddered: it was colder outside the water than in it.