Wordie Wednesday: Thalassophobia

tha·las·so·pho·bia: Fear of the ocean.


Thalassophobia doesn't necessarily restrict itself to oceans; Thalassa actually means "sea" in Greek, while the word for "ocean" is okeanós. Thalassophobia can include the notion of the expansive abyss below or the thought of creatures lurking within it.


I’m a Pisces. Apparently, that means I love water. And I do. I just can’t swim. Never learned. Unless you count a one-week stint of swimming lessons in a wide municipal swimming hole with a cold spring running through it.

Oh, I can swim enough strokes to get me from one end of a pool to the other, but my technique is poor. I’m out of breath. If you rowed me out to the middle of a lake and dropped me in, I would drown. Definitely, I’d drown.

I love to sit beside an inland lake and listen to the loons, or watch the sun set. I love to look at the sunlight glistening on the water, to listen to the gurgle of the current, or the splash as the loon dips for a fish. Those are some of my most peaceful moments, moments that feed my soul. They slow me down. I am awash in light and warmth and renewed by the water. I guess that means I love the water.

I also love to be on top of the water. In a canoe, paddling silently along a shoreline. I don’t like to be too far out, because if I tipped and fell out, well, I’d drown (if not for the personal flotation device I ALWAYS wear when I’m in a boat). I love being on ferries or motor boats (but I hate the sound and the fumes); they’re solid enough that I feel safe.

I love to watch the water, sit beside the water, be on the water.

It’s funny how water can hold both my best memories and my worst nightmares. I don’t like what might lie beneath the water. A fish brushing my leg, or a snapping turtle nipping at my toes. Reeds or water lily stems. Squishy mud. Rocks.

Nightmares – recurring. I dream I’m on a huge tanker-type boat. The kind they use to ship containers across the ocean, or a laker on the Great Lakes. There are no railings. There’s a storm – lightning, thunder, lashing rain, wind, huge waves. It’s the waves that roll the massive boat. We must be on the ocean or the Great Lakes for a boat that size to be tossed so carelessly by the waves. The waves roll the boat like it’s a water toy in a wave pool. I fall off. Into the heaving, angry ocean. Lost, with no rescue possible.

And then I wake up.

I was near the ocean once when it was like that. It was a stormy night in Scotland. I was on the Isle of Cumbrae, on Scotland’s west coast in the Firth of Clyde, and I went for a walk around the little town that nestles at the bottom of the island. Water shapes the town. Some people have jobs on Wee Cumbrae, a privately owned estate that’s now a yogic retreat centre. Some people work in Glasgow or on the mainland. Some fish. You must cross the water to get anywhere else.

On that dark night, I went down to the harbour. The waves raged, rising high into the air and crashing down, washing the piers with stormy tears. I felt simultaneously terrified by their power, yet also drawn to it. I could feel the spray on my face. The sound of the water crashing against the pier was overwhelming, like rock smashing against rock, cracking and then softening and draining away. Washing backward into the sea.

Relentlessly, the power of the waves drew me closer, but I stopped. The rain joined the spray of the waves, and I headed for home, drenched.

I love to watch the water, sit beside the water, be on the water. The water terrifies me, and also soothes me.

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