Battling the Riptide

Last month, we vacationed in St. Augustine, Florida as a family.  We’d never taken the kids to the Atlantic before that. For the past ten years or more, we’ve always gone to the Gulf side of the state. The waves are really gentle over there, but the east side of Florida gets pummeled by the ocean. In the mornings, the waves were cheeky, nipping at the feet of runners and sandpipers looking for little fish. But in the afternoon and evening, the ocean had worked itself up like a puppy that doesn’t know its own strength. 

  On one of those afternoons, Scott and I took our boogie boards out into the waves and onto a sandbar that was a little way out. We were jumping onto our boards and riding the waves out on our bellies seeing how far it would take us before we had to start paddling. But then we had to swim back to the sandbar to start again. The waves would shove us back to the shore but then suck us back in with so much force, it was actually scary sometimes how quickly I was getting caught in the waves and suddenly being slammed into the sand below. 

  A few yards away, two men were doing the same thing, but obviously had more practice. They were able to stand on their boards for some of the bigger swells. Scott and I would stop to watch them, impressed by how well they were doing. I surrendered after a while, getting thrashed too many times by the waves. 

  I swam back to the shore and saw a woman staring out to where the two men were. Her eyebrows were knitted together in a frown and I noticed she kept waving to them with both arms. Moments later, a pick up truck rolled onto the beach and a lifeguard jumped out and into the surf after the two men. I asked the woman if everything was ok. 

  “My brother is caught in the riptide,” she said. “He’s a good swimmer, but he can’t get past it right now.” I looked back out to where I had been and where they were and sure enough, one of the two men had drifted away further into the ocean. 

  Scott paddled back then realizing something was going on and we watched as the lifeguard took the man further out past the riptide to get him back in. He ended up being fine, but he looked tired. The woman was relieved that they were back on the beach.

  I am telling this story because I thought it was a really accurate metaphor for life. You think you’re doing all right managing the rolling patterns of your days. But life can get overwhelming; you get tossed around by the waves of emotions or obligations. You tell yourself to “just keep swimming.” You can see the shore so you think you’re doing fine swimming on your own. You know the break is not far off. But before you know it, no matter who you are, or how good you are at life, even the ones who never seem to struggle, can find themselves in a state of panic not knowing how to get back to the shore. And it happens without warning. You know where you need to be, but try as you might, you can’t seem to get back. 

 Some days I pray and I feel so clearly, God is coming to my rescue giving me the strength I need to get through things. But others, prayers aren’t enough. I find myself calling for help. I am very blessed to have family and friends who answer when I need them. They’re my lifeguards and they help me find my way back. You know who you are and I am so grateful for each of you who have answered my calls or somehow had exactly the words I’ve needed to continue. I don’t know what I’d have done without you. 

  I found a great quote recently. ‘There are five types of people you want to surround yourself with: the inspired, the passionate, the motivated, the grateful and the open minded.” I am blessed to know people who embody all of those qualities and believe that having them in my life has saved mine.  

  The very few gleanings I’ve gathered in life have led me to be able to confidently say, find the people who lift you up. If the people closest to you make you feel negative, depressed, lazy, ungrateful and/or judgmental, reevaluate those friendships. Don’t be afraid to create a little distance from them. And also think about if you are the one creating toxicity in other people’s lives. We must be the things that we need in others. We attract what we give. It’s never too late to start again redefining who we are.  Don’t worry if you realize you’re off course. There are times in life when we need a lifeguard and others when we can be the lifeguard. But the only way to become one is to swim, to live life as best as we can, succeeding and failing, sometimes all in the same day. We must use our failures to become stronger. Once we heal from our setbacks, we can grow and help others who are stuck where we were. It teaches us humility and gratitude. 



Imagine All the People

  A while back, Scott and the kids and I were sitting around the table eating dinner. I don’t remember which one of the kids asked it, but the question was, “If you could have any super power, what would it be?”

Scott said the ability to fly. Luke said to be invisible. Noah wanted to be really fast. Grace said she wanted to be able to talk to animals. When it was my turn, I said, I’d like to be able to have ultimate understanding of things. The kids just looked at me blankly. Scott laughed at me and said jokingly, “Super lame, Mom!” But it was true! That would be what I’d wish for, to be able to look at a person or a situation, without trying to affect my will on them and to just be able to understand.

  There will always be people who misunderstand us because our scope is limited by the lens of our ego. It doesn’t make anyone “bad.” It just means that we can’t yet see past our own experience of the world. As human beings, we are prone to judge and criticize, to tell others what we would do if we were them. But we can’t possibly know what we’d do without actually being them and living with their understanding of the world. Not surprisingly, this theme keeps popping into my days lately.

  Scott and I were in New York City over the weekend. It was my first time being there and it was a gorgeous time to go. Spring in Central Park is surreal and I fell in love with it. We decided not to do a tour of the park and instead, wandered in the rain, hiking some of the nature trails and I loved how organic everything felt. There weren’t overcooked landscapes; no sort of contrived feeling to any of the life we observed. A bunch of wild violets were just growing haphazardly under bushes and thorny shrubs, massive boulders hugged by the roots of proud trees. It was all naturally beautiful just the way it grew. No one had tried to force their ideal of beauty in any obvious ways.

  Really, the whole city of New York was like this. Before I’d gone, I was intimidated by the idea of the busiest city in our country. I worried I’d get trampled, but what I found so

Scott at Central Park

intrinsically hopeful about New Yorkers is that they are so comfortable being who they are. While one of the greatest tragedies of mankind happened in the heart of the city on September 11, 2001, it hasn’t diminished the light of it. The spirit of freedom and love pulses through it. There isn’t any feeling of fear in people expressing themselves. We listened to a woman playing a cello in a tunnel under a bridge, letting her silky smooth notes fill the air. We saw artists at the MET parked in chairs under sculptures, sketching or painting the way they interpreted them. No one asked them to move or told them they were in the way. No one gave them suggestions on how they would make their art better. In the streets, people stopped to hug and kiss and dance. Passersby would just go around them without a word. And maybe because there are so many people concentrated in New York, one could expect it would create dissonance or chaos, but what I found was complimentary harmony.

My first visit to Times Square, a cacophonous harmony.


I was thinking about how we all could do a better job at this. If we just let each other be, not demanding or forcing our ideas of perfection, letting each other grow a little wild and free, how lovely the world could be. I wonder if our idea of education or religion would change. Maybe our learning institutions would be less structured and as a result people would thrive being allowed to grow in unexpected directions.

 I know what I’m suggesting could border on anarchy if we weren’t careful, but I’m not suggesting lawlessness. Just tolerance and acceptance of each other the way that God made us. John Lennon’s song “Imagine” kept coming to mind. 

  I do believe humanity is evolving. I’ve seen it in my own life. I am beginning to see the world in ways I never thought I would. For as hopeless as I feel at times about the way of the world, if I shift my perspective and see things through a lens of love, I can stop judging myself and others. I can forgive and I can heal. I find that I finally am beginning to understand.