Posted April 23, 2013on:
~ by Jessica McKay
I’ve always been a hesitant swimmer, even in the calm waters of a chlorinated pool. My fear of water began at age 2 after slipping and almost drowning in a large garden fountain. All I can really remember from the event is standing on the concrete ledge the moment before I fell, and being wheeled away in my baby carriage, my clothes soaking wet.
The ocean added to my unease a few years later, after being knocked over by a rogue wave that dragged me along the sandy floor and threw me onto the shore, gagging on a mouthful of salt water. My Dad used to say that if I faced my fear I would overcome it, and he tried to help, pushing me over the waves in a hollow inner tube as I did my best to be brave. My fear of the ocean remained.
There is something so unpredictable and ruthless about the sea. I am so small in comparison, and being in the water forces me to be present. When a wave begins to form, the powerful current doesn’t allow me to turn and run, so the only thing I can do is face the inevitable — as with all of life’s challenges. The ocean commands my complete surrender, and there is something beautiful about that.
It has been years since I’ve ventured out beyond the breakers, yet recently I felt drawn to go swimming. The desire to be free and give in to the awesome power of the sea outweighed my fear of being out of control. Young kids were everywhere, running in the waves, diving under the bigger ones, laughing and free. I wanted to be like them. I walked out as far into the water as my fear would allow. The ocean floor dipped and dropped away, the water rose above my chest, and the waves looked gigantic and insurmountable from that vantage point. I shrieked and lamented every time a swell began to form. I really tried not to curse with all the young kids around, but I was so possessed with fear I couldn’t quite censor myself. And yet I sailed over each wave with ease.
Suddenly I noticed a young boy about 10 or 11 years old treading water nearby. His name was Nick. He came right over and boldly asked, “What’s wrong? You don’t like the waves?” “No,” I answered emphatically. “They frighten me. My worst fear is for a big wave to crash on me and not knowing which way is up.” My anxiety had put me in such an altered state that despite our age difference, I spoke to him like an equal. He listened intently, and decided to coach me on what to do. “OK, when that happens, you know how there’s white stuff?” I assumed he was talking about foam and I nodded. “Just go under the white stuff. You gotta go under it. Then it won’t hurt you.” “OK,” I said, hoping I wouldn’t be faced with that reality, since we were far past the point where waves were breaking.
“Wanna see something really fun?” Nick wanted to teach me “The Dolphin” technique. He stretched his arms over his head and demonstrated how to fly over a wave like a dolphin, diving headfirst over the other side of the wave. He watched me try. “You almost did it!” he cried. He urged me to practice, giving me little pointers about how to position my legs and hands. His youthful joy and courage distracted me from my trepidation as we laughed and played.
Just when I began to feel almost comfortable, a new set of waves approached, and I noticed they were a little higher than the others. Wave after wave swelled, and then we saw it — the wave that wasn’t going to reach us before crashing violently. I morphed into a three year-old in less than an instant. I whimpered and my voice cracked, “I’m scared.” Nick yelled over the noise of rushing water, “DON’T TRY TO GO OVER THIS ONE! GO UNDER IT! GO UNDER! GO UNDER!” We were engulfed as I dove under the foam. While I wasn’t aggressive enough in my underwater plunge, the effects were less than they would have been, had I not followed Nick’s direction. The wave disoriented and pushed me back quite a few feet. My heart was pounding, and I came up gasping for air. When I managed to brush the hair back from my face and open my eyes, I saw Nick floating a few feet ahead of me and smiling. We had shared an experience that took away the barriers of age and social etiquette. He was not the child and I was not the adult. He was my teacher, my Ocean Angel, guiding me through my scariest moment and helping me know what to do. “Thank you,” I said. “Thank you so much. You really helped me.”
Following me safely back to shore, he walked away towards his family, turned back briefly, smiled and waved shyly. “See ya,” he said. “See ya,” I waved back.
I am amazed at how Life responds when I am willing to take a risk and do something I am afraid to do. Help and guidance arrive in the sweetest form to carry me through fear and into freedom.
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