We’ve been in the big surf lately. The grief comes in sets now, much like the huge waves that barreled in out of nowhere while I swam in the SoCal Pacific when I was about his age. Occasionally a big set arrived, much bigger by far than the waves we’d been lulling in. I was always surprised. But it’s how the ocean works.
In actuality, these waves were not big enough to be dangerous. These were waves that any seasoned surfer would look at and think, “Finally!”.
But to me, being the exact opposite of a seasoned surfer, they were thick, steep, fast-moving bitch slaps of doom. The first one would announce itself in the distance if you were watching and believing, one of which I was, and one of which I wasn’t. And they always came in two’s and three’s. The first would thump me under and in the thrash all I could think about was the next one, which was going to be cresting just as I popped up sputtering.
There was never enough time to swim close enough to dive through, which I was suddenly and enthusiastically willing to do. And the drag into the swell was so strong it made the other option, that of getting the hell out of the water, impossible.
The remedy was probably just to accept that it was part of the deal of a gorgeous day at the beach. We always went home in one piece, right? So no big deal. Be cool. I wanted to see myself as the kind of person who swam hard for the first wave, pushing to get the rush of diving through. I wanted to be the kind of person that got excited by the sound of a big wave crashing behind me. But — and I say this with no small measure of compassion for myself — when those big sets swept in, I was completely and constitutionally incapable of being cool.
In fact, I was so totally uncool with it, so undone by it, that with consistent regularity, I froze.
I was a kid who dropped out of ballet at five because fluttering like a butterfly around the room was too demanding physically. What I was doing spending my summers in the actual ocean of all places, I have no idea. But there I was, as often as possible.
Years ahead of mindfulness anything, before I ever heard about the option of staying in the moment I was in, I did start to notice that not freaking out after getting pounded by that first wave was a viable option. The more I fought for the surface, the more I thought about that bastard next wave lying in wait for my dweeby sissy self, the more terrifying it became down there. Once in a while, I’d surface after wave #1, mentally shrug, take as deep a breath as I could at the very last second before Getting Munched, Round Two, and I would find within myself just the smallest willingness to just allow the waves to be exactly as they were. I could give my consent, however briefly, for the water to be — and here I apologize because there really isn’t any word more perfect — gnarly.
And then, it was over. I’d stagger out of the water, my sinuses burning from all the saltwater I’d inhaled, my muscles aching all over, my lady bits evidently in new relationships with a wide variety of local seaweed and sand, and occasionally my foot or leg or arm bleeding from a stray rock hurled at me in the watery mosh-pit I’d just traversed. But the relief was amazing.
Yeah. That was a lot fucking easier than this.