Those were the words I heard repeatedly as I watched the annual Polar Bear Plunge on January 1, 2019 at Barton Springs Pool in Austin. Although there was no official count, by my estimate there were probably 400 people who braved the chilly, early morning temperatures on the dawn of this new year. Groups of twos, threes and more threw off robes, coats and parkas to take the first dip of the year in the 68-degree native springs of central Texas.
Young and old, men and women, all were represented in a joyful and boisterous sense of camaraderie bringing in 2019 in a wet and wild manner. One thing I observed: without exception, each of the “polar bears” entered the chilly water in their own unique style. Some flung off their warm, outer coverings and with thoughtful preparation dove into the pool from the diving board in Olympic style; others slowly shed their warm coats and hesitantly tiptoed down the steps of the entrance landing to cautiously touch a toe into the flowing water to test the temperature. A few of the children firmly held the hands of pleading parents who simply could not get them into the water.
But my favorite polar bears were the enthusiastic celebrants who gingerly doffed their coats and proceeded to run and tuck into the proverbial cannonball as they lofted themselves over the cloudy pool waters, entering the pool with a scream and a splash.
Watching (and photographing) these members of the polar bear community caused me to realize how similar they were to my approach to the Unity Church of the Hills burning bowl and white stone ceremonies. We were asked to shed the burdens of the old year and jump/dive/plunge (or tiptoe?) into the new year with a new word of commitment or a new name to carry us into a beautiful new beginning.
I asked myself, “Did I approach the new year tentatively and hesitantly tiptoeing when I printed my white stone word on my white stone?” And further, “Do I really believe that I have shed the old and am ready to embrace the new?” Frankly — between us — I’m not sure which approach I took. During the burning bowl ceremony on New Year’s Eve, I believe the perfect word and symbol for my old ways appeared during meditation and was written on the small bit of paper, then tossed into the fire to be burned and banished. But did I (and did we all) really, really embrace this change with joy and zeal?
And with white stone ceremony, where we prayerfully sought the whisper of a new name or word, did I write it with such a belief that it was real before I finished writing the letters? Was I certain that the word changed from a whisper to a loud shout of “CANNONBALL?” Am I carrying this belief into 2019 with such fervor and commitment that nothing will stand in my way?
I believe “Yes,” but it hasn’t always been this way. Some years, my new name-word that came in a whisper remained as a whisper soon to fade into oblivion. This year is different. Can it be so for us all? Can we metaphorically scream at the top of our lungs “CANNONBALL” and hold our individual name-word firmly in our sights as we are the word, live the word, believe the word and grow with the word? It is ours to choose.
Let’s make 2019 the year that we think big, dream big, love big and live big.