The ocean and I have always had a complicated relationship.
I have a fear and respect for it that dates long before I moved to California. But every time I find myself near the ocean, I am mesmerized, and in awe of its power and rhythm.
The summer I turned ten years old, my family took a road trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. If you have ever been to the Outer Banks, you know that it’s essentially a glorified sand bar with New England style vacation homes.
At least that’s how I remember it.
Here I had my first introduction to a boogie board (or body board I believe is the technical term). I remember feeling so much joy riding each wave in to the shore. Every single day you would have found my dad and me out on those boards, seeking out the biggest and fastest waves, seeing who could manage to ride it in the farthest. It was a blast.
Oh how quickly that fun turned into a traumatizing experience that would haunt me for years to come.
Sure, I am being a bit dramatic, but it really did shape my view of the ocean for a long time. I couldn’t tell you how it happened. One second I was without a care in the world, feeling the ocean breeze, and its spray on my face in the middle of a wave, soaring towards the shore. The next second I felt my entire body flip upside down like I was trapped in a washing machine.
This went on for what seemed like several minutes until a sharp pain shot through my head and my spinning ceased. My board managed to sandwich itself between the ocean floor and my chin.
The moments that followed were filled with confusion, pain, and at least enough salt water up my nose to season my food for the remainder of the week. As I breached the surface of the water gasping for air, I ran towards my mom wailing in pain. I was sure I had lost all my brand new adult teeth. My mouth was on fire.
Speaking over my sobs and tears, my mom reassured me that I did, indeed, still have all my teeth.
As it turned out, I did bite down hard enough on my own teeth to chip one of my bottom teeth. After finding someone who claimed to be an expert on teeth (for all I knew as a ten year old, they only had dentists back home in Illinois), we learned that it could have been a lot worse. The chip could have reached my nerves, but praise the Lord it didn’t.
As if what had happened wasn’t scarring enough, every night for the rest of the vacation I had nightmares where the ocean was the antagonist. Naturally my mom had taught me about rip currents and undertow mere days before.
Pair that story with the powerless feeling I have when I’m at the mercy of the forces of the sea, and it sheds light on why I’m often timid or passive about swimming in the open ocean or doing oceanic activities.
In the years following my time in North Carolina, I’ve had many chances to reconcile with the ocean.
We’re buds now.
Just a few weeks ago, my family and I spent some much needed vacation time on the island of Maui. I snorkeled for the first time in years off the shore of Molokini Crater. During World War II the US army used the backside of this crater to test and practice the power of their new armed aircraft. Our tour guide told us that the only thing we can touch in the reef is a bullet. After all, it wasn't supposed to be there in the first place.
Hovering mere inches away from another world seemed impossible.
How does this formerly invisible civilization function as normally as a crowded city or busy mall? There are hundreds of thousands of unique fish and creatures, all working together to live and survive.
Sounds pretty familiar to me.
The unknown of what lies underneath me used to put a shiver down my spine. Now, I may feel a bit uneasy, but I can do it, remembering that life down there is as normal as life up here.
As I mentioned before, there have been times where waves have brought me pain and discomfort. Most other times, watching the waves brings me peace, and a chance to hit pause on life.
I look out over the never ending water and I get lost. The sound of the waves calms my soul, and I’m hypnotized by the sight. In this moment, everything manages to fade away. I have no worries, no problems, nothing that I need to do.
What happens in these moments is voiced best by Styx in "Come Sail Away":
“Reflections in the waves spark my memories. Some happy, some sad. I think of childhood friends and the dreams we had.”
My mind gets lost in a sea of thoughts and stories. Stories of old and stories of new.
I relive the days where my fraying turquoise rope swing would entertain me for hours in the backyard. I remember being afraid to try tofu and eggplant until I learned that their taste matches what they’re prepared with.
I return to my hammock in Yosemite, staring up at the Milky Way painted across the sky during a cold, windy, and sleepless night. All these memories that lie deep within my archives seem to surface in an instant.
I wonder how I managed to make it to 22 years old with only a broken pinky toe. I wonder how I already graduated college.
I wonder how it might have been if Chick Fil A had been open on Sundays.
I wonder what my life looks like in five, twenty, fifty years. Will I still be alive? Will I still have hair on my head? Will I have grand kids? What will I do for fun?
I wonder if my second grade teacher still owns her jewelry store. I wonder if our old house still creeks, and if the tombstone I made for my pet mouse is still in the backyard.
I move to the present.
Would I have made it through college if it weren’t for the people I surrounded myself with? Did I tell them how much they meant to me enough? I wonder how our relationships will change.
Was what I studied useless? Should I be nervous that I am not stepping into a career yet?
I could always work for my dad.
When am I going to be home next? Am I going to get bored as an adult? How fortunate have I been to be who and where I am at today. These past 22 years have been more gracious to me than I deserve.
This is but a glimpse into my mind when I get lost and reflect in the waves. In the upcoming months I want to write more pieces like this. I am doing this for three reasons.
I want to fill my time with more active projects. As I navigate this season of uncertainty and rapid change I don’t want to get stuck in passivity. It would be so easy to watch Netflix, play video games, or do some other mindless thing, wasting away time where I could be trying new things. This blog is me trying something new.
I need an outlet. Not a place to vent, or to release my emotions, but a space where I can share things that I am learning, or have learned already. You already got a glimpse inside my thoughts and how fast they come and go. Writing down my thoughts and observations in the past has helped me process ideas. The thought of sharing my life knowledge and experience is exciting. You never know, it may inspire somebody else.
I want to become a better storyteller. Stories have always fascinated me. Growing up, my dad would tell my sister and me stories before bed instead of reading books. These weren’t stories from his life, but epic adventures in fantasy worlds.
These worlds resembled our own, but the rules were different. One night we followed two young characters that, looking back, closely resembled my sister and me. On their adventure they discovered a towering oak tree with a magical door. This door led them through an adventure filled with suspense, action, and triumph. I remember feeling like I was the boy who stepped through that big oak tree.
My dad may not remember telling us these stories, but I do.
My encounters and fascination with story evolved as time went on. Imagination used to take me to far away places, passing the time while I waited or got bored. The Magic Tree House series held my attention for hours on end through its twists and turns. I used to build forts out of dead branches in the woods near my house, pretending that I was starting a new life, and had to survive on my own. I spent hours building entire civilizations with LEGOs. My parents would lose me to our basement where I sat patiently for weeks on end, crafting crappy stop motion movies.
Recently, I've been learning how powerful stories are.
Stories evoke emotion and drive decisions. Organizations use stories to create a connection with their consumers. Feature films show stories to entertain and make you feel a certain way.
Our lives are active stories filled with adventure, suspense, romance, loss, trauma, and everything in between. Good stories reflect and imitate the stories woven throughout real, authentic life.
As I embark on this literary journey, I invite you to walk with me, and see where it takes us.
I welcome and ask for your feedback. I don’t want to come out on the other side writing the same way that I am today. Tell me what you liked, what you didn’t like, if you thought some part was slow, or if you have any ideas of what I could write about.
All (comments are) welcome. Even if we haven’t talked in a while, and you just want to catch up, let me know that too. Lord knows unemployment pays generously with time.
For now, this is it. The beginning of a new journey. Let's see where it takes us.
In the words of a great philosopher,
“See ya later mountain-face.”
(Comment who and where the closing quote is from; if you aren’t the first, comment your favorite quote from that work if you know it).