Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Sphere of influence

Another sad thing has drawn me out of blog retirement.

Not Donald Trump sad — not that unwanted, bilious sensation of my soul being pickled. Peh!

This sadness nourishes the soul instead.

Lynne Rivers Roper died last week. I did not know her, except in words and pictures and sound.

First I knew her as Lynne Rivers, as she called herself on facebook®™, where I went to witness and discourse with swimmers from around the world.

"Great name for a swimmer," I thought, especially her kind of swimming, in the torrents and forest-bound rivers and pools of what she called the west country, the southwestern corner of England. Also, the heaving water of the English Channel.

Her swims always seemed to warrant great effort first, long hikes out of civilization into the woods of Elizabethan adventure novels, or climbs down the fossil-packed Devonian layers to the sea. Her Bit-O-Honey®-colored dog, named Honey, led the way and made it into most of the photos.

Lynne called it all "wild swimming," and described many of her jaunts in a blog, wildwomanswimming.

Immediately I liked the term, though almost as immediately I found some swimmers objected to it; swimming is swimming, some swimmers said.

You might not think such a thing controversial, but there you go.

It was the first time I was to get that Lynne was a bold spirit, even about so seemingly innocuous a matter.

Lynne was quite a writer, which I had taken to be just a really good thing she happened to do. But she was a writer writer, the breadth of which I am not fully familiar.

(Forgive me, personal friends of Lynne's, for my lack of knowledge; forgive me also, English friends of Lynne's, for my inevitable botch job on your geography and culture and politics herein.)

Of skinny dipping, for example, Lynne wrote:
Like every activity in our consumerist culture, wild swimming has become a lifestyle choice. It’s aspirational, and visually suited to glossy magazines luring city-folk with a country-living wet-dream. Can nudity possibly be a part of this? Skinny dipping is subversive in a more complex way than that of being cheeky and rebellious, not least in that you can’t sell kit to people who aren’t wearing anything. Once you’ve plunged yourself into a moorland brook on a sunny day, skinny-dipping becomes almost inevitable. What does this represent but the exposure of one’s body and soul to nature, a baptism, a metaphorical sloughing of the skin?
Pick any paragraph of Lynne's descriptions of swims or swimming — of the same swim in the same place meriting vastly different descriptions, or of keeping swim lessons available to English schoolchildren — and her words will dance before you.

I told her several times, though not enough, and she returned the compliment, despite my quite low dancing-word average.

Next I heard her on radio programs in the United Kingdom, speaking out for open-water swimming, and against an English culture that presented any open water as dangerous and not to be attempted. She became a frequent spokesperson for the Outdoor Swimming Society, a UK open-water advocacy group.

In time she became Lynne Roper online — I think she explained more people knew her by that name, so I'm not sure "Rivers" wasn't a nom de plume.

Over time, by tangent, I learned that she had been a paramedic until sidelined by injury, and that she had been an operations manager in the Royal Air Force, and a university instructor. I learned that she had had breast cancer.

Bold by nature, and emboldened by her health care and health scare experience, Lynne wrote frequently and passionately for the National Health Service in England, and against the Tory government of the United Kingdom for working to dismantle or privatize the NHS and make health care harder to get for those who can least afford life without.

Lynne and many other UK swimmers I met on facebook©™ taught me much about the political climate in Britain.

Time passed, and Lynne suddenly began asking facebook™® friends for advice about voice-recognition writing software. I didn't put much stock into it, and maybe it had nothing to do with Lynne's subsequent diagnosis of a brain tumor.

I inferred two things, though: Lynne was having trouble typing — but planned to write anyway.

And write she did. A new blog, Out of My Brains, poured out Lynne's frank, detailed and funny account of brain tumor diagnosis and treatment. I was going to say "unflinching," but I have a feeling even someone I took to be forthright and baldfaced was holding back just a bit, for the sake of family and friends and readers like me.

Her blog featured an x-ray image of the tumor. Lynne named the tumor "Hunt," after Jeremy Richard Streynsham Hunt, the British Secretary of State for Health, upon whom Lynne pinned blame for leading the wreckage of the National Health Service.

In stark terms, Lynne pointed out she was fortunate for health care that so many others may not be able to get.

Equally stark and matter of fact, Lynne said she would not live long. Maybe a year, probably less.

Lynne's last post in Out of My Brains was June 18, and she apologized at the top for typos. She described the dreadful effects of her treatment, her illness, a terrible day for her, for her parents.

She wrote of wanting to describe an idea for her treatment regimen in a later post.

I never knew Lynne personally, but I like to think I know enough that she would want people to remember her for the daily selfies sent from her hospice bed, her head shorn, her face thick from medicines, an angry lump and red scar on her right temple — and a piece of chocolate, melting and messy, held in her lips.

There must have been a good week and a half of these.

But I can't do it. I choose to remember Lynne, a real inspiration found in a virtual world, as she looked in the sea, shoulders above the water, her hair a dry (!) silver mop, her face to the sun, stretched wide in a smile.

After her death, friends filled facebook®™ with photos of her past, when it looks like she had chestnut hair.

It's easy to see, from back then and in the few years I knew her through words and pictures, Lynne lived for joy, for friends, for justice, for honesty, for care of others, for wild water and the chance for more people to share that joy. She lives on as one of those people who packed much more into life than the average person — who lives on in others because of it.

Some of her friends suggested giving to St. Luke's Hospice Plymouth, which cared for her in her last days. It seems absolutely fitting.

In the last few days, I have considered my own open water, not wild swimming by any means. Yesterday, wind under one of the bridges picked up the water, slapping my face, and I thought of Lynne.

Swim for her. Swim because of her.