We love it when the literary side of baby boomers comes out, especially when they’re writing about their own lives. And so it is with Canadian Heather Gordon-Young of Powell River, British Columbia, who sometimes wants to live Where Dolphins Breathe.
It’s not dark yet but the moon is already waiting and so we sit together watching the water. Transient ocean creatures pass by on their way somewhere. I hear them first, their watery puffs spurting, lungs spitting back the water so they can breathe in the air of the night. I can’t tell if they’re porpoises or dolphins in this light; they approach so slowly, at first I’m not sure what I’m seeing. They are almost snail-like, passing by me on the rocks in a pod moving so slowly, they seem to be one creature … at rest. Their backs round out of the water as they move and the last of the day’s light glints off their dorsal fins.
I think they must be sleeping.
Dolphins don’t ever really sleep, of course. They are conscious breathers; they must work to breathe. Without stopping. Sometimes they’re still, up near the surface as they sleep. But sometimes they just swim slowly, breathing, sleeping, resting as best they can. They live in a world in which they cannot breathe.
I understand this. I sometimes feel myself unable to breathe on the busiest, noisiest, craziest days. I wonder what it would be like to live in a cabin in the woods for a while, Walden-style, or perhaps at Tinker Creek. This is not my real life of course. In September this year, both of our children will be in university; we’ll have plenty of bills to pay. There will be no room for Walden.
I very much like my work, and I’m good at my job. But I am “the boss” of a small non-profit with 18 staff people and that does not come with a special pass to Tinker Creek at lunch. The thing is, my job has made me a better writer. I have such a small amount of spare time, I am conscious of waste. I use every moment. But I have to watch myself. The temptation is to stay deep, to swim hard, to keep driving toward my goals. There is so much I want to do.
Sometimes I forget to breathe. It’s not the water that will drown me, it’s literally forgetting to breathe. I confess, I cannot breathe in the world in which I live during the day. And yet it is where I live. I go down deep and swim hard. I am quick and agile in this sea; I am built for this underwater world.
Yes, I’m good at it, but I cannot breathe here. No, I must remember to surface, or I’ll drown.
Breathing in one world allows me to inhabit the other. Perhaps that makes me a restless sleeper, but maybe some of us have no choice.
Maybe it’s our calling to live in one world, but to find the air we need to live, in the other.
When the day is finished, I come to breathe here at the water. I listen for the sound of dolphins sleeping as they pass by.
It is night.