The day of the trip was gorgeous, sunny and warm. I arrived at the shoreline nervous and hopeful, wanting to make a good impression. Sarah had invited me to the lake, and Sarah would understand how I felt. She was a female pastor, like I was. We both knew what a struggle it was to feel out of place in a profession that tends to be mostly male and mostly older. I didn’t get invited to golf games or men’s retreats, and so I wanted to make the most of this day–connecting with colleagues while inner tubing and water skiing.
After setting up lawn chairs and drink coolers around a barbeque pit, Sarah asked if I’d like to try jet skiing. I’d never ridden a jet ski before, but watching people zipping around the lake inspired an unusual confidence to try something new.
I watched as Sarah took the jet ski out onto the lake, the handlebars parallel to the footstand as she floated on top of it. Then, as she picked up speed; she came up to her knees. Finally, after going even faster and taking the handlebars up to a perfect 90 degree angle against the footstand, she happily stood tall on the tiny machine cruising along the top of the water.
It looked easy, as hard things often do when done by an expert. When she handed the jet ski over to me, I made my first attempt, revving the engine too soon and losing control before I got the chance to raise to my knees. I tried again, same result. Over and over I held the handlebars, floating on the surface, coming close but always losing my grip and letting go before I could stand up.
Without fail, as soon as the the handlebars slipped out of my fingers, the jet ski would begin to circle, zipping around and around in the cool black water like an eager puppy hoping I would play its favorite game, waiting for me to regain control. Frustrated and embarrassed that everyone on the shore was watching me get schooled by this tiny plastic machine, I tried to keep smiling as I adjusted my swimsuit and climbed back on, sure that I had it in the bag this time, only to feel the jet ski power away from my tired hands again.
On my ninth attempt, I felt it. I was going to get up this time. I had the handles firmly gripped and as the motor began to pick up speed, I was ready. And then – whoosh – the force of the motor blew back into the water and took the bottom of my black tankini with it.
I was naked from the waist down.
I motored forward, trying to slow the machine as I bobbed behind it, holding the handlebars horizontal on the water. Each second put me farther away from my now missing bathing suit. Even if I could have stood up, I didn’t want to show off my exposed lower half to everyone enjoying their afternoon at the lake. As it was, the force of the motor was pushing that most buoyant body part to the surface, effectively mooning every passing boat.
Not knowing what else to do, I decided to cruise into the cove where our group was eating lunch. I thought if I explained the situation while staying a little way out from the shore, I could ask someone to throw me a towel and possibly save myself the humiliation of this new group of friends and fellow ministers seeing my backside.
I held steady in the water at the edge of the cove.
“You guys,” I yelled. “The jet ski blew off my bathing suit bottoms. Can someone throw me a towel?”
After a few moments of confused looks from the shore, I yelled again, hoping someone would take pity on me.
A guy in his lawn chair stood up and yelled back, “Um, we don’t know you.”
I looked again and realized that indeed, this was a different cove and a different group of people than I had come with. I waved and began to motor away, my rear end floating to the surface as the strangers on the shore began to cheer.
I found our friends two coves down. I tried yelling for help but before I could even begin my story, they applauded, laughing, and threw me a towel, telling me that they’d heard me yelling to the strangers down the lake.
The camaraderie the rest of that afternoon was rich, the ice having been clearly broken by my lake-wide display. Instead of being embarrassed or feeling alienated by my escapade, I felt the welcome and affection that comes with shared experience. I lost my bottoms and with them my nerves, finding instead a place among friends.
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“Naked Among Friends” was written by Lindsey Smallwood (far left). Lindsey loves being near the water and usually manages to stay fully clothed. A former pastor and teacher, she now lives in Boulder, Colorado with her husband and two young sons where you’ll often find her chatting at the park, walking by the creek or writing on the couch. You can read more on her blog Songbird and a Nerd or find her on Facebook.
Pelican photo by Lars Plougmann