Taking the Plunge

nancy polar plunge

Rodney Gibbs Documents the Moment in 2011

Polar Bear Club on New Year’s Day. We stand on the edge of Barton Springs nearly naked and we take the plunge. Year after year, this whole glorious, giddy affair is a toast to being alive. With friends, with children, with a poem, and probably with some fierce hangovers. Before school starts up again, before the to-do lists take over, before routine sets back in and we forget, this mad ritual is a window into a joy we feel deep in our shivering bones. It’s good to be alive. No matter what.


Paula Diving

Lady P


Rilke reading

Because we are far from perfect. None of us relish pulling off our sweaters and scarves after weeks of holiday cookies to show off pale winter muffin tops. But we do it anyway. Cause we are together and a jump into the 68-degree water together makes you forget why you even care. Hungover, baring bottoms in January, it’s okay. The exhilaration of the cold blast banishes self-consciousness.


Polar Bear- Scott and Mack


Because we are together. As anyone in their forties who is both working and raising a family can attest, we all long to be with our friends more then we are. We all long to wear furry Russian hats more than we do. I’d hoped that parenting would include many lazy afternoons with friends and a pot of chili and kids running around. That does happen, but the time-sucking logistics of work schedules, kids’ homework, soccer practice, etc. means that it doesn’t happen enough. But it’s ok. The aspiration to be together goes a long way. We love each other’s company, we love each other, and that’s bigger than my list of things to do–and some days it all comes together without trying so hard.

Polar Bear Hugs


Because it is enough. On New Year’s Day, we are full of all the promise of new beginnings. Swimming in the weedy waters of Barton Springs, we wonder why we don’t do this more often–shouldn’t we swim here all year long? It’s a new year and we vow to get more organized, or we vow to get healthier, or we vow to be more patient. That’s all good—as my husband Scott says drily when I talk about all of my new plans, “it’s good to have goals.” But right now, this morning together, frog kicking and breaststroking across the Springs, goofy from too much late night cava, this moment is enough. There is enough perfection right here, right now. And that won’t go away when the too busy routines of our days kicks in again.

Polar Bear-Paula and Flannery


Cause Phillie brought a good poem. About unfolding. Every year before we jump in, we bless our plunge with a poem, and the one Phillie came up with for this year was a humdinger. Rilke hits all the right notes, and this one that she read to us, poolside, has set the tone for 2013. Here is her copy, on the right, with the Barton Springs mud that splashed up on it– the capitalizing, I assume, is hers:


Rilke Poem

I Am Too Alone In The World, And Not Alone Enough

I am too alone in the world, and not alone enough
to make every minute holy.
I am too tiny in this world, and not tiny enough
just to lie before you like a thing,
shrewd and secretive.
I want my own will, and I want simply to be with my will,
as it goes toward action,
and in the silent, sometimes hardly moving times
when something is coming near,
I want to be with those who know secret things
or else alone.
I want to be a mirror for your whole body,
and I never want to be blind, or to be too old
to hold up your heavy and swaying picture.
I want to unfold.
I don’t want to stay folded anywhere,
because where I am folded, there I am a lie.
And I want my grasp of things
true before you. I want to describe myself
like a painting that I looked at
closely for a long time,
like a saying that I finally understood,
like the pitcher I use every day,
like the face of my mother,
like a ship
that took me safely
through the wildest storm of all.

Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Robert Bly


So, 2013, let us unfold.