Yesterday we returned to a beach where one year ago, I nearly drowned. I hadn’t expected the surge of emotion that hit me as I saw that shoreline again. I have many great memories on that beach, but the feeling of being dragged under, gulping water instead of air, came back to me in nauseating playback.
It had been an average day at the beach, until one simple misjudgment nearly changed everything. What appeared to be a simple swim across a small trough, turned out to be a fight for life against a vicious current. There was no way forward and no way back. Only down. The mistake had already been made and the very effort of trying to save myself was only bringing me closer to deadly exhaustion.
How could this stupid thing happen? I wasn’t supposed to drown. I was supposed to do so much more with my life. I have young children. I was filled with anger, fear and grief- all happening simultaneously. Until I saw the extended hand of a surfer– gratitude.
Yesterday, as I stood on the sand and carefully stepped back into the same water, I did so with respect. The boys and I had only been playing in the waves for a short while, when the lifeguards activated the siren, signaling for swimmers to move away from the dangerous rip.
What appeared safe waters to everyone, was in fact deeply dangerous.
That night at home, it came naturally to draw a parallel between the invisible current and hazardous life choices that equally have the potential to drag us under.
Danger is often about positioning. What may seem like an innocent lifestyle choice today, can easily develop into a bad habit or even worse, an addiction; a sweeping current from which it is almost impossible to return.
Outcomes are determined early; and we often end up paying the price for things we never intended to purchase.
I asked the boys to help me come up with some examples of choices that might be innocent enough superficially, but could have potentially dangerous repercussions if allowed to drift out of control.
From their mouths:
- If you make a habit out of eating McDonalds
- If you keep spending more money than you make
- If you let yourself get addicted to video games
- If you make a habit out of lying
- If you punch your brother in the head too much
- If you stand within range of snipers too often
The list got progressively stranger, but the point was clear. Dangerous currents may look deceptively safe on the surface. The wrong crowd, will probably look like the most fun. Substance abuse seems like a party, until you wake up one morning, dependent. A volatile relationship may feel exciting for a while, until you realise you’re trapped in a cycle of abuse.
- Read the signs. While there may be no lifeguards setting off sirens throughout your life, there are usually plenty of warning signs on the beach for those smart enough to look.
- Watch other swimmers. Take a moment to evaluate the lives of people swimming ahead of you in the same waters.
- Keep an eye out for the turning tide. Even when things are going well, accept that life is always changing and never predictable. What worked for you yesterday, may need to be adapted for tomorrow.
- Know your limits. Knowing yourself allows you to make decisions that are congruent with your values and boundaries.
And finally number five, the big lesson of the day for me: even if an experience leaves you frightened and unsure, don’t be afraid to get back in the water. You can’t live your life watching from the shore.