Sunday, May 14, 2017

Where the Water Meets the Sky

It was beach day today with some of the dorm girls. The women's dean had organized an end-of-the-year trip to Jbeil, with the university van, for all the girls to join. In the end, only 4 girls went and because the women's dean couldn't make it, they asked if I would go along as the adult in charge. I was happy to be asked because I hadn't been to a proper beach yet and was quite excited at the chance to see one after being in Lebanon for more than a year.

After a stop for a traditional breakfast of kaak (look up a picture on Google, it looks like a lady's purse but is filled with cheese or left plain and dipped in dry zaatar or red chili paste) and a leisurely drive up the coast, we arrived at our destination. The girls and I gathered up our bagckpacks and bags and trundled down the wooden walkway, then across smooth pebbles to the far side of the beach which was as yet, rather empty, it only being 10 in the morning. We spread out our towels and then a couple of the girls and I bravely waded into the cool Mediterranean Sea.

I didn't stay in too long. I went up to my knees, but my fear of the unknown kept me in my safety zone. One of the girls was disappointed, she wanted to dive in and swim properly but I shook my head. I couldn't join her and she wasn't going to swim by herself. Eventually we headed back for the shore.

When I was about 17, I had a frightening experience with waves and it happened to be right in Beirut, Lebanon. The church had gone down to the beach for the day and my sister, our friend Nancy, and I were jumping around in the waves and generally having a good time. We weren't in deep water, it couldn't have been more than waist-high, but at one point I had my back to the waves. Then the big one came.

Followed by another big one and a third even bigger one. Each wave pounded me down to the rocky sea floor and I panicked as I didn't have enough time to catch a breath of air between waves and my feet had been thrown up from under me so I no longer had solid footing. I was grasping and gasping and with my head under the thick waves, I was sure this was the end.

Until the waves receded as rapidly as they'd thrown down on me and I was scrambling over pebbles, rushing to get to shore and sit down before another wave caught me up in its hold. I'd always been somewhat afraid of the sea or ocean and this experience only solidified that fear. Over the next 18 years, I never went in the wild waters beyond my waist and even that was only done with a pounding heart and watchful eye.

An hour later, the girls decided they would all go in and soon they were bobbing up and down with the waves, doing flips under the water, diving for rocks to throw, and generally having a grand time. They drifted a little, then swam off to the left so they could avoid the flotsam of rubbish that was in the current headed towards where I sat. I clambered up on a comfortable rock to watch them play in the water, vigilantly making sure they were safe at all times. I looked around to spot the burliest guy that I could run to in case of an emergency, and then I began to question my sanity as to serving as a chaperone for an activity that clearly made me nervous!

As I sat watching them, I realized the flotsam had drifted off and the tropical teals and turquoises of the sea were tantalizingly beckoning me. It was a warm day and it would be lovely to just float in that cool water. But I reminded myself that I was terrified of the sea. Then a niggling thought came to mind. Every day, do something that scares you.

That was my motto when I first came to Lebanon. I used it to push me outside the known, into spaces where I had to feel uncomfortable for long periods of time but eventually saw that turn into comfortable knowing. It was what I used to give me courage when I blithely traveled off to other continents, booking experiences and hotels sight unseen with the confidence that the trip would change me in a good way.

By the time I'd worked up my courage to consider it, the girls were drying off on the pebbly beach and being a little over an hour away from when the van would return to pick us up, I decided I would be content with my wading experience and push my need to be daring to another day. I carefully picked my way down the rock, preparing to spend the last bit of the day doing some more reading. Then one of the girls piped up, I think I'm going back in the water one last time! I looked at her, surprised. There wouldn't be much time to swim and then dry off after, but nevertheless, soon all four were running and jumping into the waves.

Before I knew it, I had joined them. We spent the next 45 minutes gleefully riding the waves as they came, dodging plastic bottles of water being poured over our heads, helping two of the girls do front flips into the water, and wiping the salt sea out of our eyes when a too-large wave came along unexpectedly.

I couldn't see the bottom of the sea floor. I didn't have a protective ring or life jacket around me. There was no life guard on duty. I even at times got far out enough that I could just barely touch the pebbled floor with my toes, though I mostly bobbed up and down in chest-high water. I did the thing that scared me and I found that I wasn't so scared after all. When I felt myself getting too far from land, I turned and swam a little closer. I was careful and I was safe and I was proud of myself for being brave.

Now this doesn't mean I'm going to take up professional deep-sea diving or even go scuba-diving in the near future. I am still very much afraid of the deep waters where you cannot see the bottom and unknown sea creatures can loom up at any moment. This does mean, though, that once again I've conquered a fear in the name of illusion and I've done my thing for today that scared me. Tomorrow, it will be something else but today's bravery gives me just that little bit more of a push to take tomorrow's challenge with gusto, knowing that if I could do it once, I can do it again.

No comments:

Post a Comment