I think surfing is one of the coolest sports. I have limited experience doing it but always enjoy it and find it to be a great representation of how to live. Surfing is a fluid sport where timing and patience are key, which is probably why I am not any good at it. But surfing is also exhausting and challenging…. much like life.
I had a conversation with my daughter Clare tonight. It was actually a painful one for her. We are in the middle of moving to a new apartment and for Clare the move isn’t as exciting as it is for me and her sister.
Before the girls went to bed I said, “lets go sit on the patio and enjoy our view one more time. Tonight is our last night here so let’s take it in”. For some reason this triggered some emotions for Clare.
She broke down about how she doesn’t want to move and how difficult it is for her to go between her mom and me each week. The transition and constant change is really tiring and hard for a six year old to wrap their head around. Especially when they can’t begin to understand the complexities of relationships, let alone divorce.
I did my best to comfort her and limit my responses from trying to explain or solve her problems and find a balance to just listening and let her express her thoughts. The moment was special because she confided in me in a way that I have yet to experience with either of my daughters. I could see her growing up and it was a new feeling.
I’ll be honest. I didn’t know what the fuck to say. My heart broke for her. She cried about having to have moved four times in her first six years of life. I don’t blame her though, that’s a lot. I can still picture us moving across the country when I was her age and still see the Uhaul pulling out of the driveway about to set out across the country. I remember being uncertain and sad. My world was being flipped upside down.
Now of course I look back on the experience as just a natural part of life. I’ve moved so many times I can’t keep them straight. Some of them were sad, some were mellow and others were glorious. Each one however, regardless of how I felt was like a wave crashing down.
Ten years ago I was on a research trip in graduate school in Ghana. We traveled around the country for a month and made our way to a small coastal town for a few days. One afternoon I went out to swim with my buddy Ted. We wanted to swim out to an island about ¼ mile from the shore.
Having a strong background in swimming I knew I had the endurance and strength to reach it but did not take into account the waves. At the last minute I decided to grab a life jacket – life saver in this case – because there were no lifeguards on the desolate beach and I figured it was the wisest decision.
I started to make my way over the breaking waves and as I got closer realized each wave was like a dense wall of lead and the waves were a lot bigger than I anticipated from the shore. I saw it as a good challenge and did my best to overcome it.
Eventually each wave became bigger and faster. What was once an attempt to overcome all of a sudden became an attempt to escape. I had found myself in a riptide. Now the waves were pounding me to the sand and each time I recovered a little air another pounded me down. The exhaustion was immense. Thank god for my life jacket. Today, I have no doubt I would have drowned had I chosen differently.
I yelled out to anyone but remembered quickly I was on a remote beach on the coast of West Africa. There was no one but my buddy and the 2 seconds between each wave were barely enough to breath. I tried to scream out but barely uttered a gargled “help”.
I panicked and thought I was about to drown but then remembered my swim coach from high school telling me to swim with the current. I put everything I had into it and swam at an angle along the shore.
After what felt like an eternity, I felt my legs touch down on the sand. I stood up and collapsed on the shore in tears. I sobbed uncontrollably despite having no air in my lungs to breath. I was reminded of those tears tonight when I saw my six year old unable to breath because of the waves life was crashing down on her.
No matter what I said, I realized it wasn’t enough to ease her pain. All I could do was be her life jacket and wrap my arms around her.
I desperately wanted to take her pain and help her understand that moving was not something to be so upset about. I understood however, that for my little girl this was her world. Both of her worlds actually. Her mom is moving to another place the same week and for her that is wave after wave. She is just trying to catch her breath.
In her sadness she cried out that she was going to have to always move. The mood was briefly broken when she specifically stated that she was going to have to move for the next 22 years.
As a dad, I realized that I need to help her understand that life is fluid and that there will always be moves, changes and evolution. Resisting that reality will make life very difficult but once she learns the patterns and flow she can start to swim with current. Eventually she will better understand her situations and the pain will lessen.
Not that I have figured all of this out. Waves beat me down all the time. It’s the moments when I slowly emerge from the crashing waves to an easy swim that I love. When you finally do pop up on a surfboard and ride the wave to shore, there is a sense of peace. I am trying to teach my girls that life comes in waves. They’d better learn to swim so they can hope to surf.
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