My big toe skims the surface of the pool and the water feels colder than I expect. Although I instinctually pull my foot back, I force myself into the water to swim. In one swift motion, I plunge into the pool and dip my head under the water. I remind myself to breathe and settle into the front crawl.
As my hand slices the surface of the water, I capture a brief glimpse of the faded “T” that is tattooed on my wrist. I smile (and cough as I breath in a little water) and recall the reactions of my friends to my now almost non-existent henna tattoo. One friend wondered if it stood for Tom Tiegs and my husband plays along saying that he likes to have his women branded. Another wondered whether it was real (real henna-yes, permanent-no) and more to the point “what is that all about.”
My answer is simple. The T stands for Tribe. And thanks to Rebecca Murphy, I, along with 7 other women shared this symbol from our most recent gathering. Yes, the T stands for Tribe, but determining what the Tribe represents is much more complicated.
Anxious from the uncomfortable space of silence, I start rambling on and fumbling over my words. The questions feel pointed, even though they are motivated by friendly interest and curiosity. I try to find the language, but am at a loss.
So, I start with the real, the tangible, the concrete. Facts that I can logically piece together and articulate to others.
What is the Tribe? Well, the people of my Tribe are beautiful, creative, brave, authentic women who were willing to symbolically take the plunge and go to a creativity retreat with a group of women they had never met. I am still so grateful that Celina, Dar, Emily, Elizabeth, Meghan, Melissa, Sophie, and Rebecca said “yes” to that initial gathering of very different, but like-minded spirits. We came as strangers, but left as a Tribe. We are writers, photographers, painters, mosaicists, researchers, videographers, wives, partners, mothers, striving to be more authentic and creative, following our bliss. The Tribe is a scattering of women from across North America, but we congregate in spirit through our blogs and our “secret” Facebook group and in person in a rugged beach house on the Oregon coast. We do everything from the ordinary to the extraordinary. We prepare and eat meals together, we walk and run by the ocean, we dance. We create vision boards, we paint rocks, we voice dreams and fears aloud for the first time. The Tribe is about creativity, it is about connection, it is about drinking wine, it is about authenticity, it is about Mic Jagger.
Although my heart has a deep understanding of the Tribe, it hasn’t yet found the language to speak this truth to my mind (much less give me the words to explain it to others). Perhaps it’s the lack of oxygen that comes from being a novice swimmer or a momentary lapse in my racing thoughts as I fully immerse myself in the flow required to coordinate my limbs into one fluid swimming motion, but my mind is just quiet enough to hear my heart whisper that swimming in the water is a lot like being a member of the Tribe.
Some of us dove. Others waded. Still others got their feet wet, but decided that it was not yet their time to swim. Each woman in the Tribe ultimately plunged into the unknown, trusting the universe, trusting one another, and trusting herself.
Just as the Tribe requires us to share with one another wholeheartedly, swimming requires you to be all in. The legs can’t take a breather, leaving the arms to flail forward. You must be willing to give your whole self (even those parts that we often hide in the dark because they don’t feel so pretty – our insecurities, our anger, our not-quite-fleshed-out ideas, our what-ifs, our pettiness) and accept other people’s whole selves in return.
After having a long-standing running injury, I appreciate how the water supports me unconditionally. It’s not easy. I have to show up each day. And, even when busyness, fear, and feelings of not enoughness make me want to run, I know that the water is waiting for me to come as I am.
The water also offers gentle resistance as I move forward on my path. Likewise, the Tribe supports me, but also calls me on my shit. What do you mean you don’t have time to breath? You can’t prioritize 5 minutes for yourself? Hell, let’s breath now. Doesn’t that feel better? Yet, even with the gentle resistance that comes from moving in the water, I don’t sink.
The Tribe is linked to one another in the same way that the water connects all life in the sea. Although sometimes nothing is said, the Tribe hurts when one of our members feels alone or can’t speak her truth. Like a rising tide, a success of a fellow Tribe sister also raises us all to a higher level.
This year, the Tribe plunged into the frigid waters of the Pacific Ocean. As with our first encounter, there were those who were instigators and others who were followers, but when it came down to it, there were 8 women throwing caution (and garments) to the wind as we raced toward the sea.
My big toe hits the surface of the ocean, quickly followed by the rest of my foot, calves, thighs and torso. Somehow, with these beautiful women surrounding me, the water feels warmer than I expected.