We stood on the dark beach watching the waves break. Breaker after breaker after breaker. They layered back toward a blackness without definition. The wind was insistent. The orange street lights dimly lit the street behind and the beach in front, but there was no moon.
I didn’t know the beach – I hadn’t arrived early enough to see it during the daylight hours. I knew my two companions were both experienced and determined. Experienced and determined – such a recklessly convincing combination of daring and safety. Oh, and weren’t we all just good medicine for each other in our boldness!
Will the kayak capsize? Will we get past the breakers? Do they ever end? Can I swim in the sea at night? Is it safe? Have I done this during the day? Would I do this during the day?
Fact was, I hadn’t ever had to swim out past where the waves were breaking. In times when I should have in order to swim – I was too uncomfortable to risk it, being alone. But since I had a kayaker in this instance, it seemed like it would be a safe enough activity during the day. That was all of the deciding I needed in my head. I have everything I need for a night swim. I will be fine.
The kayak went rocketing into the sea and the night, and you couldn’t tell the difference between the two. Coach Bill was so very skilled at getting out and staying afloat. The buoy, by which he meant to tow us to shore, in case either of us swimmers should be in distress, fell off in the wild ride and Helen, laughing, collected it from where we waded in the cold, frothy sea. I slipped the tow line around my waist, trailing the buoy behind me, and waded deeper into the darkness.
I could see the glowsticks on the kayak bobbing somewhere 100 yards out. It seemed so far away. I waited for Helen to join me before starting toward it.
I waited. Antsy. Shifting in a fluid world.
She’s not a toy, the sea. I forgot how very alive she is…
It seemed like quite some time, and I realized that Helen hadn’t made any progress to where I was. I didn’t want to leave her behind and at last wandered back to where she stood.
“Are you all right?” I asked her.
“I’m scared,” she said bravely.
I don’t think I told her that I was too (because I certainly was). I think that I chose not to voice my fears. It didn’t seem to do much good to confess it and have both of us agree on it. The kayak was already out there. We were going to go out there too.
The choice was made on shore.
“Come on,” I said, convincingly, “It’s not that bad. It’s just another day at the beach.”
And we stepped forward together, Helen repeating the sentence out loud. We got in deeper and deeper, slowly, each step another coaching, coaxing, convincing word. The beacon of the kayak still bobbed in the dim distance. Now visible, now not.
When the water roiled around our chests, Helen turned to me, “Do we start swimming now?”
I considered that. It seemed like it might be too much. It might have the potential to be overwhelming. There was no hurry, after all.
“Why don’t we just try putting our heads under water first?” I asked.
“Okay,” Helen said.
“You might want to put your goggles on,” I added.
She did so. We dipped into the water – or basically chose a wave to succumb to. The waves were still breaking, crashing over our heads. At some point, it was apparent that we were going to be stuck in the breakers if we didn’t start swimming, and I told Helen I was going to head toward the kayak.
I’m not quite sure when she grabbed a hold of the rescue buoy that I had slipped around my waist, but out to the kayak I swam… towing Helen along behind.
I don’t think we quite laughed about this at the time, but oh how we did later! When we made it out to where Coach Bill was paddling, Helen – in her happy, triumphant way – announced that she wasn’t quite ready to swim, but she was kicking! We picked a direction parallel to the shore and continued in this way – paddler, swimmer, and kicker – in a vast, angry, uncharitable nightsea.
Goodness, what an adventure!
We swam along, following the kayak. The shoreline was completely swallowed in a shroud of black ocean for the most part. I felt so disoriented. There was so much to think about. When could I breathe next? Where was the kayak? Where was Helen? Was she doing all right?
When Helen did start swimming, something about the buoy I was towing changed and the line kept tangling in my feet. That, and something changed mentally for me too. I became less and less concerned about Helen and if she was okay – now that she seemed okay – and I suddenly became more and more aware of myself and the sea and the conditions… and my own fears.
Fear is the one voice that haunts me the most. He comes and he goes and he takes up too much space in my head and my heart. We are not born with fear – most fears, anyway – we learn them. I do the things I do, regardless, because I know that most of my fears are silly. But it is not easy to knock that voice out of my head.
I wanted to swim until I found a place of comfort in there – in that turbulent, rollicking darkness with its unknown creatures. The sea of many voices. I wanted to wrestle with the fear for a while and know that I would be okay after. Because I always am. Fear is never the thing that hurts you unless you obey it.
But… half an hour in, it was determined that we should go back. It was a good choice, the conditions would have been tough on a bright day, let alone at night! And with Helen and I at different speeds and only having one kayaker, it was just not feasible to continue for an extended period of time.
Once we got to shore I think we all felt relieved and very impressed with ourselves. There was a giddy sense of awe at what we had done. It was definitely one of the craziest experiences I’ve ever, ever had.
It was much later that I sat wondering about myself and night swimming in the sea… and fear. I wish… I wish I wasn’t afraid. In swimming. In life. I wish it wasn’t so very frightening. The night. The sea. The voices and fantasies. The dark. Trying something new. Dreaming bigger than myself. Wanting to make a difference. Choosing the hard and best thing. I wish it wasn’t scary. How I wish it wasn’t so.
Maybe someday, it won’t be.
But until then, I will hold onto Apostle Jim’s recent words about fear and the way you overcome fearful situations:
With a Sound Mind.
If I have anything, I have those things. I have a sound mind that thinks me into, through and out of the darkness. I have the power of a foundation of experiences that convince me I am strong enough to continue. I have the deepest love for swimming, for the sea, and for making the world a better place that is all the motivation any person ever needed to face anything.
Maybe we don’t go to the sea to be healed.
Maybe we go to the sea to be shown the tools we have to heal ourselves.