We have a polar bear swim tradition every January 1. For the past 15 years, whenever humanly and geographically possible, every man, woman and child in our group of family and friends who has gathered to see in the new year, goes into the water. However frigid it, or the air above it, may be.
There have been a few dissenters over the years; besides pregnant women who are always and unquestionably exempt, one family member steadfastly abstains, and a couple of friends have refused to ever try. They think the rest of us are insane. And in all fairness, we are a bit. I'll even admit we are somewhat zealous about the ritual, and not so easy going on those who choose not to partake. We revel in our self-righteousness I suppose.
But here's the thing, there is a certain magic in this ritual I will never want to say no to. For me, the swim (and yes, I use the term loosely), is about the shared experience, about a family tradition and what we do together, every year, at the same time on the same day. Sane or not, we do it. It's also about a moment of intense pain and discomfort...I won't even pretend it to be otherwise...and most importantly, the absolute fact that that moment passes. It's more than survivable. It's completely doable. Hell, we even laugh as we scream and sometimes cry. This year, I was unable to participate except from behind the lens because I was feeling too unwell, and no, it wasn't the champagne from the night before. (Though that's a fair question on January 1.) While some might think this excuse would come as a relief, in fact I felt terribly sad about it. I love that we do this crazy thing. I missed the camaraderie of the swim. I missed the head to toe body tingle that comes after one is back in dry woolens, by the fire, warm drink in hand. I missed the exuberant, slightly smug moment of being able to say 'I did that'.
Personally speaking, and I am speaking in first world terms here, 2015 was a year of the good, the bad and the ugly. I'm not complaining and I wasn't wishing it all away, but I also wasn't all that sad to see it go. Indeed, I relished its departure for the very fact that it landed us in a contented place, feeling a sense of resilience and gratitude. Our polar bear swim is most certainly about tradition, as well as about washing away the old, purifying for the new. But for me it's much more about being able to do that really hard thing and find out that I am up to the task, and about how grateful I am for the people who stand along side me as I do so.