The waves broke and spread their waters swiftly over the shore. One after another they massed themselves and fell; the spray tossed itself back with the energy of their fall. – Virginia Wolfe
Last week I spent much of my time where the ocean meets the sand, at the water’s edge, building sand castles, collecting shells, and watching my children frolic in the surf. I perched on the edge of a chair, ready to rise at a moment’s notice. They ran back and forth following the tide, hesitant at first, and then more bold, rushing after each retreating wave, only to turn, and run shrieking as a new wave came crashing to the shore. They spun around like whirling dervishes; it was dizzying to keep up.
My eyes grew tired from watching and trying to stay alert, knowing the current was strong, though the water shallow, for little non-swimmers. Sometimes the water that fanned out from the waves became too deep, more than their little legs could handle. I intervened on several crashes, bringing towels and hugs.
Each day we would come back to the house sun burnt, wind-swept, water logged, and entirely spent. It’s strange how tiring a day at the beach can be, some mix of sun, sand, and surf leading to too much heat, and not enough fluids.
As I reflected, I realized I live much of my life at the water’s edge, precariously balanced. The waves are strong, and continuous, although their rhythm may be somewhat changeable. It is this unpredictability that makes life exciting, but can also be overwhelming. It seems just when you’ve withstood a big wave and expect the tide is heading out, another comes crashing down.
When some waves crest, I feel my feet are deeply rooted in the sand, and the wave just rushes past. Others I can see on the horizon are too tall and strong; they require a little jump, just as my grandfather taught me in the summers of my childhood. I face others headlong, diving below the rushing force and surfacing on the other side unscathed. But then, there are double waves, as well as those I don’t see, that hit from behind with little notice. I am knocked from my feet, and find myself suddenly submerged beneath the surface, churning with sand, seaweed, and debris.
After a time, the constant, pounding rhythm of the surf grows to be too much. The need for sustained vigilance rattles nerves, flexes patience, bends limits, tests fortitude. Sometimes I want to lie down on the beach and take a nap, and let the waves crash as they will.
It’s not possible to live in a state of hyper-vigilance, always wondering and planning ahead, What if this? What if that? At some point you have to stop, and trust everything will work out, except when it doesn’t, because sometime it won’t, as Dr Seuss cleverly warned us. Still, it’s impossible to watch all the time. We all must sleep sometimes.
I feel divided between two worlds at the water’s edge, the waves of one, crashing upon the sand of the other. I am often caught in the undertow. Balancing the responsibilities our lives ask of us is a challenge; the endurance it requires can often seem insurmountable.
The choices are not easy. It may be safer on the beach, but the sand and sun are hot on the skin. I recall I could once tread water out beyond the breakers, yet I feel compelled to stay here at the water’s edge. What else is there to do? So, I take a deep breathe, accepting of the panacea to appreciate its majesty.
The water’s edge is an exciting place, loud, and exhilarating. It is alive with busy bees, burrowing crabs, tossed shells, and undulating rivulets of water. The crash of waves is ever-present in your ears. But, so too, is the rhythm lulling and soothing, much like the routines of everyday life. The panorama is lovely, refreshing in the colors and multi-faceted textures that mark a full life.
Giving in to it offers rejuvenation; before I know it, I too find myself dancing at the water’s edge. I exclaim in shock and surprise at the chill of the water, exhilarating in the rush of the waves and burst of oxygen as I run on the sand, cherishing my children’s smiles and unmatched appetite for life. The water’s edge is a beautiful and terrifying place to be, but its chaos endears itself to me.