Monday, June 6, 2011

The Beach at Linda Mar

Have you ever, slowly, learned to love something that you were afraid of?
As if you woke up from a scary dream and realized that the fear in the dream was gone and the reality of being awake was  beautiful?
... and when you walk closer to the edge of the relentless, noisy tide of this fear someone runs passed you and dives into the waters as if their life was determined to destroy itself...
and they disappear into the unfathomable water.
And you say, "How could they do that?"
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Beaches always bring me thoughts of mortality.
It happen one summer. I was on vacation with my aunt and cousin, in the late 50's, in southern Calilfornia. There was  a diving platform that was held by a rope out beyond the surf at the La Jolla Beach and Country Club that some wealthy relative belonged to. It was a hot day and the water looked so good. My cousin, being older and a much stronger swimmer decided that we should swim out to this platform so that we could mingle with the rich kids.
She reached the platform before I did. I was swimming slowly out over the waves and into the depths of the Pacific Ocean, knowing full well that I shouldn't be out there. I had never swam in the ocean before and was not a good swimmer at all. I was a floater in swimming pools, a pretender... a dive down and swim under the water, with goggles on, and see the bottom of the pool kind of swimmer. I didn't know how to breath properly or use the right kind of strokes. I should not have been swimming in the ocean.
This was not a swimming pool and there was no "bottom" that I could see or feel. My mind played this game of watery vertigo with me. The warm and cold currents clutched my fear like fish touching my body as I tried to keep swimming into the waves of water that would sometimes block my view of the platform ahead.
Then I saw my cousin swimming past me in the opposite direction toward the beach. She said something about a dead seagull floating in the water, blood and the attraction of sharks for that sort of thing.  I froze.
I knew, at any moment, a shark was going to find me flailing about like that dead bird and I would feel this huge monster grab my leg.
I turned around and with all the effort that my thirteen year old body could muster, I swam for shore but my breathing was impaired and my strokes were immature. I was "in over my head". The old saying  finally took on an urgent and stark reality I had never understood before.
As I tried to swim.. as my face went into the water and filled my nose with salty liquid, I noticed, for the first time,  that I was swimming right next to the heavy rope that was tethering the diving platform. I grabbed the rope and pulled myself into shore with the certainty that if that rope had not been there I would have been eaten by this unseen shark or drowned from fear alone.
I will never forget the feeling of sand under my feet and the warmth of the sun when I reached the beach and lay there shaking from panic and the horror of being so hopelessly left to fend for myself in an ocean so vast that there was no hope of anyone finding my body until it was swepted onto a distant beach and someone would be running to me screaming "Oh my God!".... Flipping me over, as in the movies, they would find me missing a leg and covered with seaweed. The awful phone call that would have been made to my parents... the cousin who would have been blamed for letting me swim out there.. because she was older... because she was suppose to be with me. It was a  tragedy that never happen, of course, because of a ROPE.... but the memory has never left me.
I NEVER WENT INTO THE OCEAN AGAIN.
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So when, on this beach, last week, I watched my sister pick up a stranded crab

, walk out to the serf and return it to the water...
and how the crab greatfully seemed to move into the ebb and flow of the surf and become a part of this vast sea. It's home...
.. and how beautiful it looked in it's marine environment.
I looked at the delicate flowers that grow in the sand dunes...
and felt the winds that shape the trees...
I watched my sister stand for long periods of time and looks out toward the horizon... smiling, relaxing, rejuvinating... and walking too close to the foamy water.
I wanted to tell her not to go in too far, but I didn't.  I even walked down closer to the sand that holds reflections... the sand that is so filled with water that it mirrored her feet and the sky above. This is what I needed to see. Not the ocean of fear that almost took my life so many years ago. I needed to see the ocean that reflects the sky and the life that lives around it. I think I'm coming closer to seeing this vast childhood monster as a life giving sea of endless resources, not only for the creatures that live in it, but the beings that come to find solace beside it.
I have never been close enough to see my reflection in the wet sand. It's a reflection of life that I hope to see someday. Maybe I will stand there the next time I'm at the beach and see my own likeness in the mirrored sand.... and maybe I will let the white foam move over my bare feet and once again feel that strange sensation I remember as a child, of going backwards and forward at the same time.... being pulled into and away from the shore....and have no fear.
I'm still afraid of the ocean.... but I'm learning that not all monsters are bad. Some are just misunderstood. If you watch someone who loves something long enough, as my sister loves the ocean, you understand what William Wordsworth said when he wrote....

"...Thanks to the Human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears."

Ode~intimations of immortality from recollections of early childhood~

9 comments:

Teri said...

Wow...what a story. I am not a strong swimmer either and have always had a "healthy" fear of water. I don't like being in a body of water that I cannot see the bottom. I, like you, am a floater-on-an-air-mattress type of person. Safe, secure, no dangling arms or legs over the edge. The surf has always made me nervous.

Jan Ely said...

So well written I can feel the fear and urgency. Shudder to think........ I love the motherly concern you have for your sis. You'd never do to her what your cousin "did" to you!
Some of us are better at delving into thrift shops rather than the ocean--nothing wrong with that!

Pauline said...

In the past, whenever I heard of someone who doesn't love the sea I felt an urge to help them love it as I do. I learned you can't do that when a girlfriend who panicked when she found herself unable to touch the bottom, decided the safest place to be was on my shoulders. We still laugh about the black eye I gave her as I fought her off, flipped her over and towed her to safety. I learnt my lesson. But I still do hope you will one day feel more at ease near the sea.

Suz said...

It happens on lakes too
mine was Lake Michigan...mid 60's
undertow....
great writing..truly

Anonymous said...

Hi Connie, Your pictures are great as usual. I know the ocean is a beauty to behold but I too do not like swimming in it. Give me a pool anytime I love swimming and am glad I have a pool to enjoy while I am able. I still cannot leave a comment under my google account for some reason so I am using anonymous. Have a blessed day. Madeline

Kerry O'Gorman said...

I love swimming in the ocean but fear it as well. I almost got swept away in Maui once and no one knew I was out there, alone...stupid me trying to be all 'surfer/swimmer chick'. I now only go with friends or Griff and stay in areas like lagoons or bays with no waves!
p.s love the reno's on your blog!

Brian Miller said...

you caught me in the tides of your story...scary stuff...was swimming in the ocean one day when 2 fins came up 10 feet from me...it was dolphins but i did not know that at the time...scared the bejesus out of me...there are other things though that scare me...and a poignant wordsworth at the end...

Sue said...

Oh Connie, what a harrowing story! I do not like not being in control. I often have nightmares of being in a body of water and my head just keeps going under. I've always had a fear of water. On the flip side, sometimes my dreams have me swimming on TOP of the water! What would a shrink think of my subconscious?! I'm happy to hear that your perception of the ocean has changed, somewhat. :-) Your post had such great insight! ~ Sue

Chef E said...

What great posts! I am over here to catch up...lovely photos!

I did the beach scene this weekend, got a little sun, but stayed away from the surf, the surf grabs me and drags me out with no warning. I have lost too many pairs of glasses...