We are familiar with the expression “You have to go where the wind takes you.” This is a sailing metaphor which as a sailboat owner I can confirm makes a lot of sense. You may have a destination in mind but your not going to be able to go directly to it under wind power. When you set out to go sailing you don’t really know what kind of route it will take to get to your destination. The wind determines that and the wind changes.
The other day while enjoying the waves at Juan Dolio beach in the Dominican Republic I realized that this metaphor also applies to the surf. When you step into the ocean you agree to go where the surf takes you. You can fight the waves but as one wave after another pushes you around you realize that you have entered into a force far larger and more powerful than yourself.
Those who swim in the ocean realize that they are taking a significant risk. Yet the beauty of the beach and the allure of the water on a warm day draw us in anyway. We understand the reward so we dive into that which under adverse conditions could drown the most experienced swimmer.
Not everybody takes the risk to swim in the ocean. I can think of at least two reasons why some would choose to avoid this risk. The first is that those who have not learned to swim or are still tentative about their abilities may fear that they will not be able to handle themselves in the water. The second reason is that some may not like the temperature of the ocean.
While reveling in how warm the Caribbean was I heard a man call out to his wife to jump in. As she walked toward the water., I heard her say, “It is too warm. I don’t like when the water is this warm. I wanted to ask, “Have you been in cold water?”
I grew up in the Midwest and my earliest experiences with a large body of water were in Lake Michigan. If you want to know cold water jump off the pier with us next summer and try to swim across the channel that connects the Great Lake with Portage Lake. Better yet, jump into Lake Superior off Minnesota’s North shore like some of my crazy friends from this frigid state. Even in sunny San Diego the ocean is not all that warm. Sure, you get used to it, as we always say, but there is still something magical about swimming in an ocean or a sea that is truly warm.
Fear of what might happen to us and disinterest in the adventure that diving in would bring, are the same reasons we avoid the “surf” in our lives. The ocean is uncertain. Solid ground keeps us under control and feeling that we can decide what will happen to us. Fear prevents adventure and keeps us from living fully alive. A life directed by fear will cause us to one day day look back and realize that we never lived the way we wanted to nor did the things that we felt called to do.
Disinterest in anything that is not exactly the way we like it also holds us back. I have wanted to become a good surfer since I moved to san Diego. What holds me back? Part of the problem is that the water is uncomfortably cool and also it has been a struggle to try to get any good at it. More comfortable and less risky are the sports that I feel confident enough with to feel under control.
Engaging the ocean can seem hard, uncertain, strange and rough. Despite all of this we are called into the water to swim. We go where the surf takes us because we know that the one who made the waves also controls them, guiding our lives through all of the uncertainties to the course that will enable us to live fully alive.