I am grateful for the ocean. I am grateful for this ocean that is near me now, the Atlantic, how it is warm and briny and always changing yet still always the same ocean. I am grateful that it is a place where I can run and skip and dive -shallow dives, with the slightest angle and curve on the way in – and dance with god / nature / life / whatever you want to call that feeling of connection to something bigger than ourselves. I am grateful even at the idea that something like the ocean could exist in nature where we can body surf – move in the water, play in the water, duck, tuck, twist, and turn in the water. I am grateful for thousands of tiny shells beneath my toes as I jaunt out into the waves, and for the sand that floods my ears and other orifices when the waves carry me in.
I am grateful for companionship in the surf, for my brother Mike and his one year old daughter bouncing on his board – for Eric and Mary Jane, for Phala and Zack, Charlie, Julie, Anna, and Cathy who share the summer’s journey with me in the water. I am grateful for my friend Homer, who is 87 and swims every day, who knocks on my door around 4:00 to walk down to the beach together, and who likes to jive at me when I catch more waves than he does, which must be often as he jives at me a lot.
“Every time I look around you’re back in at the beach. You’ve gotten ten and I got about three.”
“Homer, don’t you know that you get to handicap your score?”
“What, because I’m an old fart?”
“Nah – because you’re a sighted person. Didn’t anybody tell you that’s a disability too?”
“I can see them coming and they scare me?”
“You can see them coming and they distract you…”
I am grateful that the possibility even exists that a blind person can learn the ebb and flow of the currents and the apex and zenith of the waves to body surf without the need for sighted coaching. I am grateful for all those times my brother would take me out into the ocean before I mastered this, saying “here comes one, ready, three, two, no wait, jump…” until the time when he had caught a wave in and I was out there alone and was feeling the water dropping and the current pulling out and thinking to myself, this feels like the moment, and it was, and I rode that one all the way in with Mike watching from the shore, just having taken one in himself.
And from there it started – ride by ride, tumble by tumble, calm surf with the idleness of afternoon baseball and pulverizing surf with the vigor of a Russian massage. There it started, with flow and curve and spiral, learning to move in the water like water, on the sand like sand, through the air as air. There it started until slowly, with the intentionality and inevitability of the unfolding of a blossom, came the confidence to truly move in the water – dancing free,feeling the timing, sensing the timing, precision of timing, everything is timing, timing and place, which is likely just another dimension of timing in the metaphysical realm; though perhaps it is the other way around.
I am grateful for this movement – from there to here – and for the opportunity to show up and move, in this ocean, fully bloomed, running like a child with the peacefulness of age and a life well and fully lived – with the connection of a shaman and the ego’s need for connection suddenly gone, so that there is even grace in the out of rhythms – the dive that kisses the flop, the sudden crest that smacks in the belly, the tuck and roll that lands with a thud; for the ocean is a place where awkwardness can be transformed; where a fall can be a dance and you can come up laughing if you choose, and when another wave rolls right over your laughing face, in your mouth and up your nose, you can go on laughing more – laugh and cough and laugh again.
Several summers ago, when first reading George Martin’s A Game of Thrones,
I had one of many dreams about swimming in the ocean and being in over my head – upside down and tumbled round. Waking to a cool misty morning in a dorm room in New Hampshire, I thought about the many sayings Aria’s sword master gives her to perfect her craft, “quick as a snake, silent as a shadow…” I started thinking of what phrases I might say to myself like that, as I was feeling particularly heavy in my thoughts and stuck in the tangle of my life energies. I was thinking about my dream and the water and realizing that I know how to swim in the ocean; only in the dream, I wasn’t trying to swim, but instead trying to change the water – make it calmer, less deep, more like the water I like to swim in.
“I am the rider, not the wave”, I said to myself, and the analogy was at once clear. I was navigating life by trying to control my unconscious – keep my moods and thought impulses regulated according to whatever set of expectations I had decided, or been told / taught to believe, they should be. This was creating a lot of innate tension, as my moods and thoughts didn’t generally comply with the wishes and shoulds I was putting on them.
“I am the rider, not the wave”. Let the water be weather. I don’t waste energy trying to change the weather. When I wake each day, I simply notice it, respond to it, love it, swear at it, sing to it, chew on it, dance in it – what have you. The weather is the weather. My response is my own, but the weather is the weather. So too with the water. Some days, the waves are high and the currents strong and it’s all you can do to keep your head up to breathe. Other days it’s so calm you might as well not be in the ocean at all but in a lake. One day follows the next, and again, and again, ad infinitum.
“I am the rider, not the wave”. I know how to move in the water. I can stand, roll, jump, dive, ride as fits the moment. I am the rider, not the wave. I need not control the water. The very idea is ludicrous. “I am the rider, not the wave.” I can move in the water, so too with my unconscious. I know how to move in depression – like moving in a cold, heavy current. I know how to move in overwhelm, finding the ground, pushing up, and stroking methodically, one arm after the other, toward the shore where I can stand again. When there is playfulness, I can move with the playfulness – now skipping, now prancing, now unabashedly gallivanting amidst sparkle and foam. When there is joy I can dance with the joy – poised sleekly like a cat, launch effortlessly with the moment, extend fully and with ease, and surrender. I am the rider not the wave, and for this I am grateful.