From Random Inspired Essays
As we round out the year 2021, I find myself reflecting on adversity. This was prompted by the pandemic, of course, but other adversities spring to mind as well. Health concerns. Working. Not working. Parenting. Relationships. And, moving back through my personal history, I recall enduring several lengthy separations from my spouse during his deployments, both domestic and overseas. That was incredibly challenging, especially when I was home alone with a small child and not much of a support network.
It was during one particularly difficult deployment that I developed a mantra: lean in. Lean in to the adversity. To help illustrate and explore this idea further, I adopted a metaphor about living life in the surf. It is this little idea that has gotten me through so much, and as we endure these truly challenging times perhaps you might find some strength in it as well…
Life in the Surf
We are drawn to it, we humans. From the spark of our creation, we develop adrift in our own private sea, protected and nourished and nurtured. Once we emerge and fill our lungs with atmosphere, thus begins a lifetime of seeking it out.
We want it.
We need it.
We crave it.
One could say we live our entire lives in the surf.
We live clustered on the shores, family and friends and strangers alike, drawn to the ebb and the flow. But despite the universal fascination, every individual responds differently to the ever-changing environment.
Many frolic in the surf. Children frolic, the young, and the carefree. They dance as the waves lap at their feet, splashing about in the frothing tide, blissfully innocent or perhaps filled with joyful abandon.
Some prefer the calm of the tide pools. The pools are tranquil; warm; predictable. There is yet life in the tide pools, but it is familiar and comfortably banal.
Some venture out. They are the brave. Bold! They seek adventure in the cooler blue swimming depths where they can explore and stretch themselves beyond their limits. However, some of these intrepid thrill-seekers flirt with a most powerful force, their audacity pressing them onward, outward, into dangerous waters. These are the risk-takers.
And some…some, they sit in the sand. Maybe they’re afraid of the hidden dangers. Maybe they never learned how to swim. Maybe, despite the water’s appeal, they’d rather appreciate it from afar and bask in the warm embrace of the sun. Or maybe they simply don’t want to be wet. It may seem dull and dry to some, but this is simply their way.
The tides change, however. As do the seasons. And the weather.
Tides are predictable and recurrent. It requires adaptation but can be easily navigated. You simply move your chair and settle back in.
The same can be said for the seasons. As sure as the sun will set and rise again, so will the spring turn to summer and the summer to fall. Winter will come, and we prepare.
Then there’s the inclement weather. The storms. In most cases, you can see a storm coming. As the horizon darkens, you collect yourself and perhaps gather with your loved ones to retreat to the safety of the sand. You may cleave to one another, finding comfort in the warmth and the strength of your support system until the storm has passed; or perhaps you find yourself riding out the storm alone, clinging to whatever is nearby. But then—whether you’ve weathered the storm alone or among friends—you brush yourself off, clear the debris, and return to the surf. The storms will come, and the storms will pass. Life in the surf goes on.
However, there is a greater threat to those living life in the surf, a rolling force of potential devastation:
The Rogue Wave.
The day could be sunny and clear, dismal and cold, foggy, cloudy, scorching, or mild, it doesn’t matter. The Rogue Wave is random, indiscriminate, and indifferent.
Sometimes, the Rogue catches you completely off guard, knocking you clean off your feet. You topple face-first into the churning surf and the world spins topsy turvy. Disoriented and flailing, you struggle to find either the surface or the seafloor, anything to orient yourself lest you succumb and vanish beneath the waves. Your hand breaches the surface of the water. You gasp; you sputter. You find your feet and drag your battered body to shore, weary and bedraggled and half-drowned. You’ve survived, but only just.
Other times, you can see the Rogue coming. It’s coming fast, and you’re a bit too deep to retreat to shore, so now you have a choice and you have to make it quickly. Do you turn your back or do you stand and face it? To turn your back means you will likely be submerged and could lose your footing. It’s instinctive, though, is it not? To turn? To protect your vulnerable underbelly and allow it to wash over you, hoping for the best?
To stand and face it, though…that takes strength and resolve. You must widen your stance and plant your feet firmly in the sinking sand. You hold your arms out for balance, puff up your chest, take a deep breath, and when the Rogue Wave is upon you, you lean in.
Lean in to the wave as it rolls through and you will find you are still standing once it carries on toward the shore. And not only have you survived the encounter, but now you are in a position to help others who were caught unawares or had turned their backs. Hands grope the air from beneath the waves and you are there to grab onto them.
The Rogue Wave is cold and unmoved by the plight that it is, leaving victims roiling in its wake. We have all suffered the full force of the Rogue, and have known the relief of feeling a sure hand grasp our own as we flail and flounder. As such, when we are granted the opportunity of foreknowledge, we are also in the position to be that hand. To survive is not only to endure, but also the opportunity to be the saving grace for another.
So, face it! Stand with resolve.
Puff up your chest.
Plant your feet.
I think I have my next tattoo.
Thanks for reading.