I’ve always been somewhat uneasy with the ocean. In fact, when I was child, the vast mystery of that moody mass terrified me. Because I was a child growing up on Long Island one would assume that I would feel at home with the sea. But when my mother brought us to Jones Beach every summer, I would tremble in it’s presence. I mean Holy Guacamole!
My mother, on the other hand was fearless when it came to the sea. She loved to dive right in and off she would go while I stood there;knees 'a knocking. She tried her best to quell my raging reluctance to engage with those never ending layers of living ferocity. I can still see her smile and hear her musical, soothing voice. Her strong, freckled arms; wet and salty around me urging me to relax and float. I was afraid to go much further than just past the edge; the sizzling, bubbling water swiping at my feet.
She told me there are three ways to swim in the ocean, or more specifically, she taught me three ways to collaborate with the waves. You can go through the wave by jumping into the middle of it before it crashes. You can dive underneath. You can ride it. But whatever you do, don’t just stand there or it will knock you down again and again
And I remember well the knocking down. A violent assault to be sure. The panic of being mauled, assaulted, overpowered-my bathing suit ripped from my body as I’m tossed around-choking and gasping, my nose and throat burning until finally finding the sandy ground with my hands and knees and dragging my disheveled self towards the shore until I’m finally just out of reach of that breathing, hissing, briny behemoth. As I try to gather myself, pulling my twisted bathing suit bottom out of my painfully sandy crotch, I look out and see my mother blissfully floating, a carefree, mother-shaped cork drifting out towards the forever horizon. She had simply punched through the stomach of the rising wave and stretched out!
I don't know if my mom knew that while she was trying to give me ways to follow her into the great sea, she was also giving fantastic guidance for navigating life's challenges. Each of the three ways she offered could easily be translated into metaphoric responses to any situation: Jump through the middle and deal with it head on-just do it before the problem has a chance to gain momentum and come crashing down. Or you can dive underneath, like a Ninja-quietly and stealthily avoiding the loud and violent churning; mediation, perhaps. Then of course, the final and most fun way is to ride that wave! Just jump right on top of it like a rodeo cowboy and let it speed you back to solid (or sandy as it were) ground.
I still have let's say, a healthy reverence for the great waters of our planet. One can most likely find me in the shallow part, or on the sand, enjoying the view. Even so, my mom would be proud to know that, although metaphorically, I have taken her advice time and again. And I can now relax and float....
What wisdom have you gleaned from your elders?