In light of the fact that my previous two posts on this blog have been about the wonderful time I had in Maui, I felt it was time for some full disclosure.
I fear the Pacific Ocean.
Until Maui, I’d never swam in the ocean, and if I’m being completely honest, I actually loathe swimming in general.
These facts are somewhat comical in that, the main thing I mentioned when speaking about our trip before we left to Maui, was how excited I was to experience a warm beach and warm ocean waters. Maybe a warm beach shouldn’t seem like a big deal, but to me, this is something I’ve only known in my dreams. Growing up in Oregon, the ocean’s water is nothing short of frigid. Wading knee-deep on occasion is the most I’ve ever let myself experience the Pacific. I’m not a fan of hypothermia, and 50 degree ocean water could cause that quickly. Also, I’m not a fan of rip-tides, which are a huge reality for us Oregonians. I grew up being firmly warned with every beach trip by my parents, “Do not ever, ever turn your back on the ocean.” Reading the daily printed newspaper—because I’m apparently 70 years old—I’m constantly bombarded with stories of people needing rescue from our powerful ocean water. Even worse, it’s not uncommon to also see stories about people losing their lives. All of this to say, my brain is trained to know that the ocean is a no-go.
We spent most of our first evening in Maui strolling along the beach. I walked in the surf ankle deep and in wonder. The tide splashing over my toes was inviting, soothing even. My toes weren’t turning bright red and numb with pain from chilly waters. On the contrary, I was actually enjoying the sensation of the sand…and the water.
The next day we rented snorkel gear from a great shop in Kehei, Auntie Snorkel, and they told us of a beach that we should head to for our first snorkeling experience. Excited, we quickly left on our adventure to find this place.
We might not have followed the directions correctly. I say this because at some point we found ourselves walking on a golf cart road through a golf course, our car a mile or two behind us, we weren’t sure where we were exactly. Turning around wasn’t an option though, not when adventure awaits us. As we walked, we could hear the gentle waves persistently calling to us, and finally we decided to make our way towards the ocean. Walking down a gentle slope away from the course that looked as though a few others had previously wandered down, we finally found ourselves on a nearly empty, black sand beach. There were rocks and reefs and it appeared to us that we’d found the right place to snorkel.
As the reality of our next adventure set in, I could feel my emotions wanting to overwhelm me, and by emotions, I don’t mean excitement. My anxiety levels were off the charts.
This is reality. This is it. Those are ocean waves. I, the non-swimmer, am going to get in that water and snorkel. I could hardly still my mind from a thousand panicked thoughts. I’m pretty sure at that point the butterflies in my stomach were no longer fluttering about, but trying to stun my intestines with a Taser. Also, I was quite convinced the ocean air at that beach was much thinner, like that of the mountains in Colorado. Just breathe, I reminded myself.
Todd, excited to see what was waiting for him beyond the break of the tide, was soon swimming, quickly making his way past the waves to the calmer waters.
Me? Not so much.
Snorkel on, flippers on, I made it to the knee deep waters and hesitated. My mind was filled with every thought imaginable…This water could kill me. I’ve been told that all of my life. This water is stronger than me. I hate swimming! I’m not even a ‘swimmer!’ Why did I think I could do this?! I’m supposed to swim in the ocean? The. Pacific. Ocean. Really?!
I reminded myself it was simple mind over matter, and I would be okay. I waded further out, sometimes slipping on the rocks, sometimes sinking into the coarse, black sands. At least the water’s warm, I tried to encourage myself.
And then, sooner than I expected, I was in the crashing, tumultuous waves. As they pounded my body, I slipped, grating my shins on the rocks beneath me. I panicked, fought the current and quickly scrambled a few steps back into shallower water and sat. Letting the waves still pummel me, I cursed at myself for ever thinking this was doable. Employing my French and glad no one was around that would need to pardon it, I embraced a sailor’s vocabulary and grumbled something a bit unladlylike.
Not long after, I saw Todd’s head pop up above the water and glance at me. Was I coming out? What was wrong? Come out, it’s awesome, he encouraged me. Knowing my fear water, he knew this would be a struggle for me, yet I know it took all of the strength he could muster to not roll his eyes at me behind his snorkel mask. He was fine out there, it was incredible, would I please come join him?? He tried several times to assure me I’d be okay, telling me I was sitting in the worst part of the water. I knew this, but didn’t care and waved him away in frustration.
It was my battle. No one could talk me through it.
The waves were still pounding me, and I could feel the coarse sand scrape at my backside. (Want a free travel tip? White sand beaches feel much better to sit on than sharp, pumice sands.) I felt all hopes of having a fun trip quickly fade, as the realization set in that this whole snorkeling things was impossible.
Again with the French, I muttered my favored oath of the day, “C’est des conneries.”
Me entering the ocean could only lead to bad things, of this I was convinced. Leaving land behind, my comfort behind, all that I know…to do what, swim?! I hate swimming.
I probably sat like this, battling these thoughts out in my mind for ten or fifteen minutes. I was embarrassed that I couldn’t join Todd in the joy he’d obviously found in the water. I was scared. I felt hopeless. I felt like I’d hit rock bottom, both figuratively and literally, as my legs were bleeding from cuts delivered by the unforgiving rocks. I felt ridiculous, and foolish, depleted and dumb. And I was mad (which is why my French vocabulary was getting so much usage, albeit quietly).
With the gravel-like sands working their way into my bathing suit bottom, I knew I couldn’t sit in the thrashing waves forever.
I glanced up the beach towards my towel, towards my clothes, towards the familiar and the presumably safe. With a deep breath, I turned my gaze back towards the water, towards the incredible beach that surrounded me, to this place that is as close to paradise as I can imagine.
And as the surf continued to surround me, I had the realization that I was doing everything wrong. I had placed myself in the most brutal part of the ocean, in the break of waves, resisting change, resisting surrender to what I knew would ultimately be right. I had chosen misery instead of bravery. I had embraced my stubbornness instead of adventure.
I decided it was time to make a better choice. I surrendered. I waved the white flag and gave up my fight… And I asked for help from the only One who could help me.
Oh, God. I’m such an idiot. I’m sitting here in this place, this place my mind can hardly believe is real and cursing up one side and down the other. And for what?! I get it, my pouting and griping isn’t going to help me. I’m a fool to think that’s going to fix this. God, I need your help. I want to know what you have waiting for me beyond the break of these waves… I want to know.
I dug my flippers out of the sand, tried to shake some of the gravelly sand out of the back of my swimsuit bottoms, adjusted my mask and let go.
I had to let go of all that I knew, of all that was safe, of all security and all comfort. I had to let go of my way. I had to admit I was wrong. I had to let pride fall and ask for help. I had to trust…
The rewards that day for my surrender were plentiful. The sights that the water held, waiting to share with me, were other worldly. Colorful fish that I’d only viewed in aquariums or books, real coral reefs, sting rays and sea turtles were among the many things I spotted. It wasn’t initially easy, it wasn’t natural to trust that I’d be okay in the ocean… but I was.
As hours in the water progressed over the next days, my excitement to return to it grew. It became easier to accept, it became more familiar… and it just felt right.
There are a lot of things I’ve resisted in life, avoided or tried to push through on my own. I’ve prided myself in my strength, my ability, my ways… Honestly, I’m stubborn to the core. But these aren’t traits to praise, so much as my stumbling blocks. I’m realizing that these aren’t attributes that make me a better, stronger person so much as they are my weaknesses. My resistance, my way, almost cost me one of the best memories I will carry with me in this life. My doubt, my lack of trust almost cost me an experience that was truly life altering.
The gashes, scrapes and scratches I acquired that day in my resistance aren’t quickly fading from my knees and shins. And in some ways, I hope they don’t. If they leave a mark, a slight scar, I will wear the marks with pride. Not pride in how they were attained, as they were earned through my stubborn, self-reliance. They won’t be reminders of pride in myself, either. The scars will be visual reminders I can be proud of, reminding me that when I trust, when I ask for help, when I admit weaknesses, that’s when life gets real. That’s when life delivers its rewards.
That’s when I can conquer obstacles as big as the mightiest ocean.
What obstacles are you ready to conquer?