Saturday, April 20, 2013


And I thought about the feeling of helplessness, the feeling of almost drowning, my little incident with the Atlantic Ocean.

It was the summer I turned 12. My family went to Bethany Beach on the Delaware shore for a day trip. It was hot and the beach was packed blanket-to-blanket with people searching for some respite from the heat. My father stayed on the shore, watching my younger brothers while my mother and I waded into the ocean. We floated in relatively placid surf on a rented rubber raft. I began to become aware that there was a little too much distance between me and my mother, who was alone on the raft. As I tried to swim back to her, I lost ground, swimming forward but moving backward deeper into the ocean. My feet no longer reached the ocean floor. I was quickly becoming tired as I moved farther from my mother and she began to realize that I was in trouble. After the fact, I knew that she began screaming, but all I knew at the time was sheer terror. I had never heard of a riptide and had no strategy to save myself. I was gasping, swallowing water when two lifeguards reached me and put me on a raft. I don’t know how much time elapsed, but as we neared the shore, they asked me if I wanted to ride in on a wave. Bad idea, but I must have agreed. The wave threw me and I washed up on shore like a half-dead mackerel.
I now know that the strategy for surviving a riptide is not to fight it but to swim parallel to the shore to get out of the current. But I have no intention of testing the theory. That’s why I’m not interested in swimming now, some 50 years later. The feeling doesn’t go away. I smell salt water or even chlorine in a swimming pool (I had another incident in a pool at Girl Scout camp) and my heart starts to pound.

And that’s how I feel about life in general sometimes—like I’m trying so doggone hard to swim forward but the current keeps pulling me back. My arms are tired. My feet don't touch bottom and the lifeguards sent to save me nearly drowned me again.

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