It’s the summer after senior year, a hot night in the middle of July. My friends and I are sprawled around my friend’s air-conditioned room, being lazy and talking about the latest news. Not national news and definitely not international news, but more like who’s broken up since graduation and which Chinese food place would actually come close to delivering to our current location. When you live in a rural town in the middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania, your options can be limited. As the night wore on, we moved onto watching a movie and snacking on whatever junk food was readily available. We glanced out the window across the lake as lightning lit up the sky, way off in the distance. It was the kind of heat lighting that doesn’t really make any noise and doesn’t really bother you, it’s just there for your viewing pleasure.
As we turned back to our film, my one friend suddenly spun toward us all with her mouth wide open. “Guys, let’s go swimming. Let’s go skinny dipping!” We looked at one another as if she had suggested we jump on the next flight to Mexico. “But…it’s lightning. We’ll get electrocuted and die.” “No, we’ll be fine. Look how far away it is! C’mon, it’ll be fun.” Apprehension was still in the air as we paused the movie and mulled it over for a few moments. My friend urged further, “We’re all going off to college soon, don’t you want to do something fun that we’ll remember?” We quickly came to the consensus that we would do it, but only if the lighting stopped within the next ten minutes—taking it as a sign from the universe that if it stopped, we could do it. We grabbed some towels in preparation and sat, waiting to see if the universe would agree with our plan…it did.
We quickly threw on our suits, grabbed the towels, and reluctantly stepped outside. I know we were all probably asking ourselves the same question: “Did it always get this cold at night in the summer? It was July, for God’s sake.” We tiptoed across the dewy grass, approached the edge where land turned to liquid, and reluctantly stepped into the shallow water. We would need to swim/walk/doggy paddle to the dock since the water was initially too shallow to even consider jumping in. As we made our way, voicing our discomfort with touching the bottom of the lake and not knowing what we were stepping on, I couldn’t help but think of The Great Gatsby and imagine us as a bunch of rich gal pals in the 1920s making our way out for a night swim. All we were missing was the short flapper styled hair and champagne. It was kind of eerie how the lake could go from being constantly active during the day—people boating, tubing, swimming, and fishing—to being completely quiet and glass-like at night.
As we neared the dock, the water covering our shoulders now, my friend let out a yell as something sharp went into the bottom of her foot. She hobbled the rest of the way to the dock, holding her slightly bleeding foot up while hanging onto my arm for support. We reached the dock and climbed up. I hadn’t realized how clear of a night it was, and being in the middle of nowhere, we had a perfect view to seemingly all the stars visible to the Northeast. I almost forgot why we had come out there in the first place. After some bickering—“You go first!” “No, you!” “Let’s just go at the same time!”—my friend quickly volunteered, even more quickly took off her bathing suit, and jumped in. “Okay, now we all have to do it.” I was cold. All I wanted was to wrap a towel around myself, wash off the icky lake water, and go back to our movie. But where was the fun in that? How would I feel looking back and wondering what I’d missed if I hadn’t jumped in? We mimicked our friend in quickly taking off our suits, the dock rocking back and forth dangerously as we all scurried to do it as quickly as possible, and jumped into the dark water in opposite directions. I guess you never know the difference two small pieces of fabric can make until you swim without them.
It’s those moments when reluctance kicks in, where your fight or flight response seems totally appropriate despite being completely safe, that end up being some of the best memories. They’re the memories we open up and live again when times get stressful and winters are too cold. They’re the times you can look back on and laugh at how your nervous you were, and know that those experiences left you better off and a bit less scared to try something new.
As The Fresh Exchange blog puts it, “When we speak of magic we should speak of those moments that were the purest. When the stars were bright and when the laughter was loud. Those are the most magical moments in life.” I never question or hesitate at those moments now, because while they’re typically spontaneous, you can almost feel when they’re about to happen. It’s something about the atmosphere and the people you’re with and the direction you feel like you’re headed in. Like you could do anything, try anything, and be anything for that one moment because the future is far off and you’re always going to have that one moment to look back on and say “Hey, at least I tried it. At least I can say I was that person in that moment and I’ll always carry that person and that moment with me.” Those moments have got to be my favorite, and that’s why I’d recommend skinny dipping to anyone.