Monday, July 26, 2010

Lifeguard On Duty

It has been a while, but racing down to the water’s edge for the first time this summer is like greeting an old friend. This is the ocean I had played in nearly every summer as I was growing up. I’ve been in the Pacific and Caribbean as well, even the Mediterranean Sea. But this is the ocean I know. I let the water lap over me feet and I move out deeper, familiarity rising and falling over me with each wave. I brace myself against the strong undertow, gazing out at the wide expanse of sea where distant boats float on blue. A sandbar allows me to stay waist deep until a rising curl whips me off my feet and I feel that sensation of floating midair before I crash back into the white froth. I ride the waves for a while like this, jumping the smaller ones, diving under the larger.

And then the waves changed. The crash of water is more insistent, stronger than before. I barely catch my breath from one before I’m hammered by the next. The thought of moving closer to shore hits me only a moment before the whistle blows. I start swimming hard. The group I had been swimming with is now a wave ahead of me, and then two. The waves are striking me at different angles now, holding me back in a watery grip. With each big wave, I kick for all I’m worth, thinking this is the wave that will carry me all the way to shore, but I make no progress. Each time, I’m pulled back deeper into the ocean. I can’t see anyone else in the water anymore. I look to the shore. The lifeguards are standing now, not breaking eye contact, waving me in. I fight the water again, swimming, but in vain. A feeling of exhaustion washes over me suddenly, and I know I have nothing left. I can’t make it in. Another wave dunks my head under. I don’t fight it. After the crash, I let my body float back to the surface and gasp for another breath. Salt stings my senses. I look again to the life guards poised on the water’s edge. I slowly shake my head and wave an arm. I can’t do it.

Then suddenly, I hear a succession of short fast whistle blows. Two life guards hit the water, swimming at me faster then I thought possible. I have time to think of staying calm. Strong arms, stronger than the clutch of the water pull me from the riptide. I won’t recognize either of my rescuers later. I’m only aware of the arms that hold me on either side, bringing me to safety. In that moment, even before my feet touch the sand, I am at peace. I feel perfectly safe. 

Once the strong arms were there, nothing else mattered. It meant moving beyond the humiliation of asking for help. It meant moving beyond the feeling of insufficiency at not being able to help myself. It meant resting in a strength far greater than my own. And I think I'm learning to do that. Maybe this was all just part of the process. 

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