The Restorative Powers of Charles Schultz and My Dad.
Snoopy was cooler than the Fonz. There was no debating this. The Fonz had to jump a shark to eventually prove his cool, but Snoopy fought the Red Baron. And lost. And that was way cooler. Charles Schultz played a fairly large role in my upbringing, educating me in strange ways that only a true Peanuts trivia nut would understand. And I wear that label with pride. Stick me on a game show and there’d be few folks on the planet that could hold their own against me in a trivia showdown if Charlie Brown and crew were the topic. I learned baseball terminology, Beethoven history and important nuggets of pop culture from reading the 7 dozen or so Peanuts books that I amassed over the years (about 60% of which I still have… the oldest things I own). I cried when the last Peanuts comic strip ran in the papers and I cried when Charles Schultz died (these two events, if you don’t know, were within less than a day of each other).
So it wasn’t odd that my father was reading to me from one of these books while I lay there quiet, eyes closed, peaceful. I was about 4 weeks away from my 6th birthday, and my dad patiently read to me next to my bed, occasionally skipping a particular page that either wasn’t funny (gasp!) or was too hard to vocally act out (so profound was the material). At one of these moments I asked my father to go back and read a page he skipped.
These were the first words I spoke since being in a coma for three days.
It turns out I couldn’t swim. To this day I am unaware of the specifics of that fateful day, but at some point on the evening of a 4th of July party in our neighborhood someone noticed I was face down in the pool, not really doing a heck of a lot. 3 days later I awoke to regaled stories of Linus, his blanket and his love affair with Truffles (see… don’t remember Truffles, do you?).
Not being able to swim while living on an island seemed kinda dumb. And I paid the price. Ever been dead? Despite my failed memories of the events, I don’t recommend it.
These days water is a great rejuvenator for this body that sometimes sustains a little too much self afflicted abuse. When the iron wins an argument, some part of my body might feel the punishment, but a major tool in the repair arsenal is good ol’ H2O. Sure, ingesting it is helpful (I’ve even read that’s it’s essential… go figure), but BEING in it is way more fun, even to someone who died by its hands, albeit temporarily. No hard feelings, eh?
Water can equal fun. Don’t believe me? Two words… Hot Tub! Like Dan John wrote in Never Let Go, “it’s more than rehab, it’s a party!” In my continued recollecting of my visits with Mel Siff, one thing most folks who have stayed with him will remember was his remarkable hot tub. I learned a quick, and semi-painful (at first) lesson from this particular body of water. The average commercial hot tub is too cold. Yes, cold. Most have a cut off temperature of 104 degrees. Brrrr.
Sure this used to be an acceptable temperature to tingle and boil my pasty flesh as well, but total body immersion in an 8-foot deep(!) hot tub that never dropped under 110 degrees brought new insight into what the “hot” in hot tub was supposed to mean. You think lobsters turn red when they’re boiled? You ain’t seen nothun’.
All of my visits to Mel were in late fall or winter, so there was always a patch of snow on the ground. This was my intro to ‘contrast bathing.’ The right of passage, which eventually became standard protocol, went like this:
4 minutes of HOT tubbing.
a quick roll in the snow
a couple laps in the pool
This was almost always after a 14-hour day of learning and lifting, around midnight. By 2 am, after another chat session (the lessons never ended) I’d pour myself into a deep state of unconsciousness while Mel answered email and moderated his forum for another couple of hours.
These water treatments are still a staple of my recovery program. I am blessed with living in an inexpensive apartment complex that has a pool about 20 feet from my door. We have no hot tub, but it doesn’t matter, since it wouldn’t heat up beyond an icy 104 anyway, and my needs are different now. But I have a bathtub and a powerful water heater (and a strong, but less-than-macho, appreciation for bath products… gotta have bubbles! Where are my essential oils?). So I frequently enjoy a 5 minute bath that would peel the skin off many folks, followed by a jump in the pool, which even in midsummer, never quite gets above the “damn-that’s-cold” level (yes, at some point between tub and pool I throw some shorts on. I’ve got a great collection of neighbors, but we’re not on THOSE terms).
Going from “AHHH $%#@!!” to “OHHH &*%!!” has magical effects on the body, and almost every culture that isn’t ours will nod their heads in approval. Heck, even the mighty tribes who were here before the pesky European boats arrived had a series of rituals involving extremes in temperatures, and despite being outgunned, all original accounts of the native people on this soil were of a race of people who were healthy, strong and damn athletic.
Hop overseas and watch steam, fire, snow and ice be used in any number of healing rites that have practically become routine for many folks, then come home and build a sweat lodge in your closet.
Beyond mere temperature manipulation, water is just, well, nice to be in. When I fly in my dreams, which I thankfully get to do with some frequency (dreams are awesome!), it is simply reconstructing the feeling of swimming, but above ground. There are lingering fears of the water being the final place I attempt to draw breath, but water and I have been in couples counseling for years, and we’re getting along better than ever. I accept that swimming will never be a strength of mine, but I can enjoy it as a meditative passion, which, hot, cold or just right, is recuperative in itself.
If we’re 75% water to begin with, then we’re always just 25% away from drowning anyway, so we might as well live it and enjoy it. Yeah, I know, the American River was only snow about 50 miles ago. Yes, it is cold. Shuddup and get in. It may not have the combined healing power of Charles Schultz and my dad, but you will benefit from it.
(And happy father’s day, Pops. Sorry I gave you such a scare. Thanks for being patient then and now.)