Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Watching from the Shore

I almost drowned.

Two and a half years ago I stopped at the beach to get a swim in at the end of a sales day in NJ. It was a beautiful day--perfect sky, perfect air, perfect water. It was after hours so it was just me out there with some surfers beyond the breakers. The waves were large but you had to swim out to them because it was high tide and the sandbars that summer were further out. After riding some of the small inside ones and still feeling good, I started out for the big waves. At some point I realized I wasn't really getting anywhere, or it seemed like that; I looked back to the shore, and it seemed far away, looked toward the large waves, then tried to touch the sand with my toes.

I couldn't. I was in a fairly deep channel that was basically a wide riptide, and I panicked and tried to swim out of it. Then I tried to swim toward a visible sandbar about 50 yards away but the rip was too wide. So I turned toward shore, trying to get past the pull of the ripe, using the force of the waves and swimming hard.

Swimming hard was a mistake. I've been an ocean swimmer all my life, and surfed for 10 years, and there I was doing it wrong. I was tired. I didn't think I could make it so I floated a bit.

Someone noticed. Two lifeguards stopped their ATV on the beach, got out and leaned back on it, watching from the shore. I tried again. Stopped. Tried again, kept going. My arms were dead so I kicked hard as a wave would pass. I went under to see how deep it was and I could barely touch a foot down--I knew I was close, but I was done. I was ready to start waving, but almost too tired to do it. And then a larger wave passed by and I made one last effort--truly the last energy I had, because I was done and had given up. It worked--I moved forward enough to touch sand and keep my head slightly above water. It was enough of a break that I could make another push.

The lifeguards got back on their ATVs and drove off. They had been watching from the shore the whole time, long after their shift had ended.

People lose their lives all of the time because nobody's watching from the shore. When you live alone nobody's watching from the shore. Things aren't going well, nobody's watching from the shore. Even when you're not alone, often there's nobody watching from the shore. You bob up and down, try to breathe, try to keep your head above water, try to touch the sand, fight the wave... it consumes you, exhausts you. Giving up isn't a choice, it's inevitable: it's what happens when you have nothing left to give. That's why those watching from the shore are so important.

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