Wednesday, October 22, 2014

TAKING MY (nearly) NEW FRONT TEETH FOR AN ULTIMA (?) SWIM:IN BED WITH SENECA



Although I have previously written on the topic of 
TAKING MY NEW FRONT TEETH FOR A SWIM, this time is different. First of all, those front teeth are not as new as they once were. Further, it's October 20, when most less nutty people consider the swimming season over. But on each of the past three days, I've swum 42 laps. Stubborn about giving up the so-called summer--which, at least here in Umbria, never quite arrived--I'd been holding out for a nice, sunny swimmable day, and these were the diems to carpe.

I googled for tips on how to stay warm in cold water, and ended up wearing a funny-looking get-up of a stretched-out bathing suit topped by a tight-fitting French Los Olivades T-shirt with a snug Land's End bathing suit bottom over the whole bit. Although I have previously documented some of my what-Not-to-wear escapades (see 
UPDATE ON WHAT NOT TO WEAR (WHEN GARDENING IN UMBRIA) ) I will leave this particular outfit to the imagination.

In truth, I didn't care how I looked, and it was a great experience--a happy memory in case other chances for a final swim of the season wouldn't present themselves. The water was 68 degrees--not impossible--and since the air temperature was similar, it didn't even feel too chilling afterwards. (After all, I stayed here this semester to do crazy stuff like this, and I'm doing it.) In writing about it to my son, I signed my message, "your wet mom."

But now back to the "ULTIMA ("Last") SWIM" bit. I'm really hoping that that yesterday was NOT my ultima swim. I'll explain. The Italian ear reflexively associates the word "Ultima" with "L'Ultima Cena"--"The Last Supper." A dear friend who makes an admirable effort to speak Italian found this out when, on the last night of a trip to Italy, he proudly  announced to the waiter that the coming meal would be his "ultima cena." In response, the waiter's face darkened and he looked as if he would cry. He outdid himself in trying to ensure that this doomed Americano would enjoy his Ultima Cena.

Me? I'm watching today's weather carefully in hopes that yesterday will not have been my ultima swim of the season. On the other hand, I've been reading (in the remarkable Brain Pickings) "Seneca on the art of living wide rather than living long," so maybe I should not press my luck?

Here are some favorite moments from that article. (This morning I stayed in bed thinking, reading, writing. Seneca kept me company. Instead of constantly turning back to the Brain Pickings article, I decided to take notes from it so that I can refer to it as necessary.)

1."...the man who ... organizes every day as though it were his last, neither longs for nor fears the next day... Nothing can be taken from this life, and you can only add to it as if giving to a man who is already full and satisfied food which he does not want but can hold. So you must not think a man has lived long because he has white hair and wrinkles: he has not lived long, just existed long."

The following water metaphor feels just right for a piece whose point of departure was taking newish front teeth for a last swim: "For suppose you should think that a man had had a long voyage who had been caught in a raging storm as he left harbor, and carried hither and thither and driven round and round in a circle by the rage of opposing winds? He did not have a long voyage, just a long tossing about."

2. Our task is then to "learn how to inhabit our own selves fully in this "brief and transient spell of existence...so that we may live wide rather than long."

Yes! Not to be greedy or anything, but I'm hoping that Italy may be just the place to try to live both "wide" AND "long." 

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