The “polar plunge” — jumping into water around Christmas or New Year’s Day in a cold climate — is in some ways a metaphor for the past year.
First, you had to psych yourself up for it. You were dreading parts of it a little bit, but you knew once you did it you’d feel invigorated. You plotted your strategy, considered your approach, and then took the plunge, either an all-at-once submersion, or little-by-little. Once you emerged, you were exhilarated, paradoxically revitalized by the strength-sucking cold. But your dominant thought was, “Wow, that went fast.”
My family hasn’t regularly participated in a polar plunge, but we did it last year and we did it again this year, along with my brother and sister and their families, so I guess now it’s a Christmas tradition for us. When we gathered last week for Plunge 2023, it seemed as if we had just recently dried off from Plunge 2022, which I guess means that Plunge 2024 will be here before we know it.
After everyone had plunged this year, my brother remarked that studies show health benefits of submerging oneself in cold water for 90 seconds: inflammation reduction, cardiovascular improvement, stress reduction, etc. None of us had been in the water for more than a few seconds, which apparently counts only for bragging rights, not for any health advantage.
To get what we soon began calling The Benefits, my brother told us from the comfort of my parents’ hot tub, we’d need to go back into the lake, and stay there for a while. Only my brother and my younger daughter returned to the lake, and afterward they noted that reaching the 30-second mark was the most difficult, and that the final 30 seconds passed the most quickly.
That’s kind of like the year. For the first third of the year — January through April — the whole rest of the year stretches out ahead of you. It’s winter, no garden to tend, a stack of books to read, time slows down a bit. By the final third — September through December — the year is rocketing to a close and you’re almost just along for the ride. The clock ticks over to the new year and you think, “I can’t believe it’s over already!”
Those of us who chose not to partake of The Benefits formed our own faction, aggressively self-promoting the value of even the briefest of cold-water immersions: goal-setting, strategic planning, risk assessment, technique and style consideration, and, most importantly, photo opportunity.
The unsung benefit, of course, is the merit of marking the passage of another precious year, and our gratitude for how lucky we are to have had it.