Monday, March 14, 2011

Tsunamis and Body Surfing

If you haven't watched from the ground footage of the tsunami in Japan, I highly recommend it. Watching the footage without commentary is good for the soul, I think.

Some of you know I lived in Maui for six months. Loved it. I made a promise when I went there that I would get in the water every single day, and I did. For the first few months the waves tossed me around like an uncoordinated rag doll. Then one day I "got" it. The rhythm of the ocean and how it pulses.

I remember one day driving down to Big Beach. We were still a mile away and could hear the percussion of the waves on the sand. When we reached the beach, the tourists all stood, coolers and towels in hand, gaping at the twelve-foot waves that had taken over their vacation spot, breaking and crashing right before the water line.

What I did that day wasn't smart. It wasn't a good example, but it was a personal test I wanted to take. I looked at those waves, pounding the sand so hard I felt it in my bones, and saw the path past them into the bobbing roller coaster behind the break. And I wanted to go on that ride.

So I did, even though the massive audience of tourists made me a bit nervous... After all, I was about to be a very bad example... and possibly publicly humiliated.

Laying my towel on the beach, I walked to the waves more than twice my height. There was no fear in me, just the absolute awareness that timing was everything if I didn't want to be beach slapped--and I knew that if I made a misstep I would indeed take a serious hit.

When my opening came, I didn't run for it. There was no fevered action. More important than what towered above of me was the push/pull of what was going on at my feet. That was my guide of whether to slow down, hurry up, or move backward. Despite what my eyes saw, the dance at my feet was the key to success.

Melodramatic story short: never moving faster than a stroll, I waded out until the tide pulled and beckoned, then I pushed off and swam into its pull. Easy as that, I was behind the breaks and bobbing safely out of the crash zone. It was like having a balcony view of the beach, so I saw it when two guys toss down their towels and stormed the beach. Like everyone else there, they'd watched what I'd done (most of them in parental horror), and these guys hadn't come to Hawaii for nothing!

They were going to swim, by golly! And massive waves weren't going to stop them!

If my bad example enticed these two guys to brave waters they didn't understand, then watching these two guys get pounded back to the beach kept the rest of the tourists from following my bad example. In fact, as I watched the athletic guys get beat down and sand scratched, my own confidence wavered at my ability to get out of the situation I'd put myself in.

Had I overestimated my abilities?

When the time came to get out (i.e. I noticed some well-meaning parents thought I was stuck), I swam over to the danger zone, lifting, dropping, and mostly doing my best to ignore all the fear channeled my direction. This was between me and the wave.

I bobbed until my opening came. I knew because the water swirling around me told me the very instant I had to make my move. No hesitating. No forcing the moment. Just being in the moment and being aware of the laws that governed me.

I can't site many moments of true grace in my life. I've certainly never been confused for a ballerina, but if I ever had a moment of grace in my life, this was it. It was as if I'd been lowered by gentle hands to stroll to safety while framed in angry white water. In THAT moment, and for those few breaths of my life, I had been EXACTLY in tune with the laws of nature--laws that would just as soon smash me to the beach and turn me into fish food as guide me to safety like an overindulgent guardian angel.

It was this experience, combined with many others that altered my understanding of God and justice.

Water is not malicious. It doesn't go out of its way to hurt you. It simply follows the laws that govern it, without exception. Different people walk up to the same wave, with dramatically different results. Some can't get their footing while others play with ease. Some put their towels too close and have them pulled out to sea. Others put them too far away and burn their feet on the sand trying to get to them. Same beach, different experiences.

The possibilities of what may happen are limitless when people do not understand the laws of the water. But once one learns, the possibilities of what can be done in the ocean vary from predictable to breathtaking. Surfing, sailing, swimming...whatever. They all require understanding of immutable laws that govern us whether we are aware of them or not.

All of nature is the same way. It will kill you just as soon as feed you. We're all part of the cycle, after all. Nature won't assassinate a squirrel while wrapping a protective cocoon around you. There is no bias or favoritism. Fire, earth, air, water... they're all obedient to the laws that govern them. And when we fight or ignore those laws, we are in their war path.

And that's why I think it's important to watch the tsunami footage. Not because I'm an alarmist that wants you to sign up for a food storage MLM which illicits sales by promoting fear, but because I think it is very, very important not to forget exactly how helpless we are when nature takes it up a notch. It is absolute silliness and worse than naivete to think that our ignorance will protect us.

My first day on the beach in Maui was an embarrassment. My thirtieth was arguably more dignified. After two months I was "getting" it and realizing how stupid I'd been before. In days following, I got a little less stupid.

Then I moved, and now it's been nearly three years. Trust me, I'm stupid again. Fully. I watched the power of the waters easily pulling cars and houses out to sea and thought, "I forgot." I forgot that I'd seen yachts tossed around like toys by heavy storms on the island, quickly creating multi-million-dollar scrap heaps. I forgot that the ocean didn't care if someone was on their honeymoon before it smashed them into a reef. I forgot that beach lines were approximate markers, not a die-hard property lines between what man claimed and what nature was allowed. I'd forgotten that nature is always in flux and doesn't care much for "should," and only deals with what "is."

We shouldn't forget, though. I implore us all not to ignore this moment of learning and contemplate the Bachelor instead. But don't get all mopey, doom-and-gloom either. Because if I can walk out of torrential waves like an effing Venus then there's hope for us all.

We just need to learn, be prepared, and practice. If we understand, we'll have a view outside of the danger zone when we encounter the tsunamis of our own lives.

First 1:30 is of water. After that it is footage of water moving to land. Both are worth seeing.


  1. That was beautifully written. My thoughts must have channeled through your subconscious, then you gave them form and function. Thank you.

  2. Wow, Sheralyn. That was a beautiful post. Loved it. Love you!

  3. @teenie- I try to channel whenever possible, so thank you for projecting your thoughts so well :)

    @Rachael- Right back at you, woman!