The Spirit of Water

The world is full of Eternity. And when we honor it, it speaks to us. For me, born under the sign of Cancer, a water sign, I have had many mystical messages from the world of water. And through water, I have experienced the Divine. Not one time, but many.

Once I was sailing with my beloved out and around the Farallon Islands. How many have crashed and broken their boats here, I wondered. Perhaps we too shall be punished rounding this craggy lump churning waters right in view of San Francisco. This day was cold and windy and cruelly grey. Terns followed us and watched over us. It took what seemed like super-human strength to keep the boat away from the siren’s song of those grasping rocks. The birds stayed with us. We made it around the island and felt proud and relieved.  Coming in to the straits toward the Golden Gate, the light was gold. The air was pure with an unearthly light. I could see the whole world open and waiting for me. The birds flew away. We were home.  Wisdom of a Chinese poet came to my mind:

Much more often still the sea gull appears, being a permanent wanderer in the skies, which serves as self-reference for the unsteady traveler longing to return home one day. 1

Another time, out on the water in a race going south of the city, the wind was hard on us and suddenly a sheet came lose. And the foresail went snapping wildly into the wind. I took the helm as my captain commanded and brought the boat pointing toward Bolinas where the wind was not so cruel. I had always been crew, never skipper. I was scared. The wind was stiff and I prayed. The wind grew smoother. Still strong but not so rocky. The sheet was fixed and we came about and carried on. Is this a lesson the Divine just gave me? I wondered. And I remembered a saying from a tribe of coastal Africa:

Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors. 2

Another time my boyfriend and I were on a sail out in the ocean, having trouble catching the wind. It was getting late and we knew we were not going to make it to safe harbor before dark. As happens with a sail that has gone from cheerful recreation to disappointment, we began to spat with each other. In a singsong way we were barking back and forth, one at a time.  We were nearing a crescendo when a whale dove under our boat pushing it into a great height and down. We both were silent with awe. Then we laughed and we said to each other: “I guess we got the scolding we needed!”

A special connection between dolphins and humans has existed for centuries. In fact, the New Zealand Maori once called dolphins “the humans of the sea.” 3

When I was four years old, my brother was two and my mother was pregnant with my sister, we walked in our bathing suits to the public pool where another neighbor mother was going to take care of us while my mother went for her prenatal check up. As we came into the pool area, the neighbor called to me from the far side of the pool where her babies were paddling around her. She called my name and said, “Come on in!” And so I did. I jumped into 10 feet of water near where I stood and floated down to the pool floor. There I saw a funny shaped faucet and I went over to it to touch it. The next thing I knew I was awake on a gurney in the nurse’s office with my poor mother poring over me. I coughed up some water and got up. My wondrous adventure was over. Dying? What is so bad about it? My mother was thanking my namesake, the Virgin Mary, Mother of Us All.  And I was eager to jump back in.

………from the earliest times, the immersion ritual was symbol of regeneration and purity, a way of finding unity with original perfection 4

Years later, I had the opportunity of drowning again. My family was having work done on our house. It was a rugged, hot summer and my mother and her friends and all the carpenters on the job, decided that we should take off a weekday and go down to the Jersey shore. I was probably 12 years old. 

The beach was packed that hot, hot summer. The water near where we all picnicked was too crowded for me. So, I wandered off to an area not so populated and swam into the great green waves. I rolled and dove and was having a great time, when I noticed I was farther out to sea than anyone else on the beach. I tried to make it to shore and I could not. The waves were not cruel, but they were insistent and as I was pulled further and further out and into circles upon circles of churning water, I came to the realization that I was going to drown. An incredible peace came over me and I just let the waves dunk me and pull me up over and over. I relaxed into Eternity and waited for the End. 

 Then, from nowhere Teddy, one of the 20 year-old carpenters wove his huge hands through the back straps of my one-piece bathing suit and pulled me up as I was going down for the last time. “Mary Ann!” He said my name and laughed. “What are you doing out here?” And with great, swift strokes, he floated me and then carried me to the shore. I was somewhat relieved, but somewhat disappointed, too.  I had the feeling that I had missed an opportunity to meet the Divine. 

The Bantu people consider that the place of birth, of creation, is a great whirlpool of water. 5

I have studied many faiths and led many ceremonies. But nothing seems so holy to me as immersion in water. Water is my Mother. I take her quite seriously. And when I leave this realm, I want to go in her arms.

  1.  on Life and Work of Cheng Yi-Jen

Mary Ann Maggiore

Mary Ann Maggiore is a former Mayor of Fairfax elected on an environmental platform and founder of the Affordable Housing initiative and Youth Advisory there. At the same time Mary Ann served as the Executive Director of Girl Scouts Save the Bay serving 55,000 girls. Mary Ann's work has been honored by the CA Senate, CA Assembly, Working Solutions Community Innovator Award and the City of San Francisco. Today Mary Ann continues her commitment to youth as ED of LAUNCH!, Guiding Young People 18 to 30 to Meaningful Work.

This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. Christine Gilmore

    Thank you for this lovey, engaging article Mary Ann! I so enjoyed all your tales encountering water. I especially like the notion of water as “Mother.” She is nurturing, soothing, peaceful. She is wild, furious, fierce. She is the familiar, protective home in which each of us leaves as we enter the world…and maybe, as you so beautifully described, the vessel that’s used to take us further home.

    1. Mary Ann Maggiore

      Christine, Everything you say, do and write has such a sweetness and strength to it. Thank you for taking the time to review my work. I am honored.

  2. Valeri

    Very interesting story! It made me laugh and it made me smile.

    Thanks for sharing.


    1. Mary Ann Maggiore

      Valeri, So good of you, dear teacher and guide, to read and comment on my work. I am honored.

  3. Ann A. Geddes

    The grace of water flows within you so beautifully, it’s depths power are known to you. May you continue to bless and be blessed by this love and by this light. Amen.

  4. Emily

    Thank you for sharing these encouters you’ve had with water.

    I love all forms of water myself and feel deeply connected to God when I’m in and around water. So strong and yet so peaceful. So mighty and get so gentle.

  5. Ann

    Thank you for sharing your insights about our relationship with water. It has really got me thinking.

    1. Mary Ann Maggiore

      Ann, And thank you, dear friend, for taking the time to respond. I am honored. M

  6. Nancy

    What a beautiful journey with something so precious to you Mary Ann. I felt like I could feel the depth of your experiences as you went from life to eternal life. Such a rich explanation of your special connection. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Mary Ann Maggiore

      Nancy, I know you know the importance of experiencing the Divine. Water is such a messenger to us humans, no? I deeply appreciate your responding to my thoughts and feelings. May we have many more — in or out of cyber space! 😉 Mary Ann

  7. Christine

    Mary Ann- thank you for this lovely piece of work. I enjoyed reading you interactions with water. I especially enjoyed the metaphor of water as”Mother.” You caused me to think of my own relationship with water…Indeed she nurtures us the womb, gives us life as we drink, soothes and comforts us as we bathe, cools and refreshes us as we swim. She is a force, often furious and angry, also playful, quiet and calming. She envelopes us, allowing us to float upon her, buoying us for the next leg of the journey. She’s a good one…Water.

    1. Mary Ann Maggiore

      Thank you, Christine, it is so lovely of you to take the time to read and respond to my work. Water — “She is a good one” as you so beautifully said.

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