ophe's promise

something akin to a sketch pad

moon phases
Location: Hawaii, United States

one of my favorite quotes: Be Humble for you are made of earth; Be Noble for you are made of stars.

Friday, December 10, 2004

I'm a lousy swimmer. Oh, I know the strokes, the breathing techniques, the safety measures and I've a reasonable dose of strength and endurance to be able to swim fairly well; I'm just not very comfortable in the ocean and often struggle with a kind of anxiety when in "deep water". I'm not a "natural".

I loved the ocean in my growing up days. Summer days spent at one of the beaches on the Eastern Seaboard were delights. My relationship with the ocean in those days was one of reckless abandon. Although I was sane enough to not swim alone, I loved being tossed about by rogue waves, sometimes to the point where a friend would need to pull me in. A short rest, and I'd be back in the surf, trying to catch the waves for a ride, or else, just to dive through them. I never did drown! (smile) These days are a little different.

A popular swimming beach in town is called Magic Sands. (the real name is La'Aloa - translated meaning "very sacred") Each winter the sand from the beach is washed out, leaving a rugged, bare, lava rock shore. And each summer, magically, the sand reappears. The special characteristics of its surf and currents make it a great boogie-boarding spot and it's often crowded with both children and adults. My first swim there was a sort of snorkeling lesson. My friend had advised me that when I was ready to go back in to shore, I'd best use the South side, allowing the waves to bring me in. I ignored his advice and approached the shore from the North end, rather. Suddenly, a large wave caught me up and tumbled me, ripping the snorkeling gear completely off my head and even tearing the ponytail elastic out of my hair. No sooner had I barely surfaced and gulped a short breath of air than the next wave hit me, again rolling and tumbling me, but fortunately depositing me near the beach. A nice couple helped me ashore, while I gasped for breath and thanked my lucky stars. The amazing thing, a mere twenty to fifty feet away from me were children happily splashing in the ocean and expertly riding the waves. The same ocean and surf that had nearly drowned me was their intimate friend, their playmate. La'Aloa had a lesson for me that day and I recalled the words of my father.

My father was the kind of wise parent who offered little, if no, unsolicited advice. In fact, sometimes, even when advice was asked for, his assistance was in the form of questions, helping me to make my own decision. In his wisdom, he realized that the best lessons are hard won through personal experience and he also knew my nature well. Tell me to do something and I'm likely to do the opposite! His was a benevolent kind of "stand back, watch her run, fly or fall and help her get back up if needed" sort of parenting. And so, I was very surprised when, just before my move to Hawaii, he said, "Ruthie, You may not be happy to hear what I have to say. I'm sorry, but there is something I must say. You know I don't like to give advice, but here it is: (dramatic pause.....) Please, don't swim in deep water." My response to him was "Dad, do you mean that literally, or figuratively????" "Both!", his prompt reply.

Those words of my father echo in my consciousness. He knew my sometimes reckless nature and was concerned about possible dangers I might face in the upcoming days. I've tried to honor his request and paid more attention to safety than usual, both in the water and out. But his words have also created a new anxiety for me when I'm in the ocean. All of a sudden, I'm aware that I may drown there!

I haven't given up swimming, I still go to the ocean for a swim at least once a week, sometimes more. I pace myself, don't get into waters that look too rough and don't get too far away from shore. I'm much more comfortable in the calm bays (they're called "baby beaches" - that's me - a baby in this ocean!) I try to learn the language of this ocean and work on increasing swimming skills and my physical conditioning. Sometimes the fear wins out and my swim is very short, other times I feel I've made progress in these efforts.

Those moments when I overcome the anxiety and truly enjoy my time in the ocean are bliss. The cleansing waters, that wash away grime and sins, carry me to a different world. I become aware of my breathing, regular and calm, and accept the buoyancy the water offers. Observing the graceful motions of the sealife below, I can lose a sense of time and place and momentarily merge with that other world. Or...while floating on my back, eyes closed, enter a sort of meditation, the sunlight filtered through my eyelids forms a kind of kaleidoscope mandala and there is peace.....Someday, maybe, I'll ride some waves again, too. When I'm ready and when the "water is not too deep".

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