Something I Never Told My Grandmother


On our annual summers with my grandparents we often took trips to the beach.  I loved the ocean and was in the water from the minute we arrived until we left, only stopping to get out to eat lunch.  I hated waiting the half hour after we ate…making sandcastles seemed boring and waiting seemed to take forever.

When I was old enough, I was allowed to take a raft out into the ocean.  We used the large canvas rafts that people would use on camping trips.  I’d climb on that raft and swim out to where all the other rafters and body surfers were and then I’d catch the wave and let it take me all the way in.  I would watch the shore and wave to my grandmother and grandfather from time to time.

This was a thrill ride for me!  I was so happy that they trusted me and allowed me to go out farther than my feet could touch the ground.

I did this for a couple of years and really had a “no fear” attitude of the ocean.  One time, when I was about ten, I grabbed my raft and paddled out to where the waves would just start breaking…doing my usual gig.  Then out of the blue, this HUGE wave came.  It was bigger than anything I’d ever seen.  As it rose behind me I wondered if I could catch it.  I was also afraid of what would happen if I didn’t.  It looked big enough to hurt if I let it sweep over me.

I decide to go for it…as the wave swelled it seemed like a wall of water was at my back and I found myself rising higher than I had ever risen before, looking down at waterline…I was worried.

Then CRASH…the wave broke!  At first I could feel it more than see it, a pounding sensation beating on my body and at the same time feeling the frothy, super aerated water all around me.  When the pounding stopped, I opened my eyes and all I could see was salt water and sand.  I didn’t know which way was up…or how far down in the ocean I had gone.

I thought, So this is death.  I had an amazing feeling of calmness and acceptance over this thought.  The only thing I didn’t see was the white light.  Suddenly, I was at the surface, breathing air and miraculously, my raft was right next to me.  As I climbed on top of my raft, I thought of how close that was and I was humbled and scared.  I was going to paddle back to the shore for a bit and take a rest.  Just as I began to paddle, I perceived a wall of water behind me.  I’d forgotten to watch the ocean and it was coming after me with a vengeance.

As the wall crashed over me I thought, The last one was just a sample…to prepare me…for my death.  Okay, I’m ready.  I’m okay with this.  I let the wave pound against my body, no longer fearful of my soul.  Again, I reached the surface, even more surprised that I was alive.  This time I was not so lucky, my raft had taken the wave in to the shore and I was not going to be able to ride it in.  Perhaps it was better not to have the raft…not right now.  I hastily swam toward the shore eager to get out of that ocean.

For the first time, I allowed myself to enjoy the pleasure of looking for shells and building sand castles. I didn’t tell my grandparents what happened because I was afraid that they’d never let me go in the ocean again…and I wasn’t ready to let go of her yet.

I don’t think I ever took a raft out again, I switched to body surfing instead.  Sure, I got a few skinned knees and once scraped my nose but I never got tossed about like I did on that day when a few rogue waves came to shore.

And, through the years, I have learned to respect the ocean.  Just like a tired child, she will let you know when to leave her alone…and when to get out of the water.  As an adult I understood how great a trust my grandparents had placed in my ability to swim and had to wonder…was it trust or foolishness?