I made friends with the waves last week.
I truly love to be near and on the water, and especially the ocean, a Midwestern girl who still finds the saltwater new and exciting after half a lifetime living near it. But I'm sorry to say I've been one of those moms who stands on the store and lets the surf nip at my toes while watching my girls dive under the crests, waving at them when they pop their heads back up.
I've been constantly impressed with their lack of fear, neither of the tide nor of the cold. They just jump right in with glee, and stay in for hours.
I never learned to do that in the Wisconsin lakes of my youth. Or even Lake Michigan. We didn't go swimming anywhere but the town pool very regularly. And my mother wasn't one to go in very far, either. I never had a chance to embrace it.
This summer I decided I had no more excuses. There was no reason not to stride right in. The water is warm(ish) in August, and in Ocean City, where we go each summer down the shore (that's Jersey talk for "going to the beach"), the water stays fairly shallow, even when you walk pretty far out.
My family was already 50 yards ahead of me the first day, but I kept moving and let the small waves slap at me. The soft sand below the surface was uneven, undulating in small hills that made me imagine a tiny dessert down there. I had to pay attention so I wouldn't stumble, while slowly starting to move myself in time with the rhythm of the water.
I looked back to shore, or out to my girls, I don't remember where, and a wave pushed at me and knocked me off balance. I landed on my rear end in neck-deep water. And I laughed.
It felt like a nudge of "let's do this, already!"
It also made me think of the way my cat bops the side of my head when we play.
And I realized I'd been looking at the ocean all wrong. It's just a big cat who wants to play with you. It's stronger than it thinks it is, and sometimes you feel such affection for it that you forget how strong it is, and it can hurt you. But what it wants to do is engage.
My new tattoo was in the process of healing while we were down the shore. It's the Sanskirt word "spanda." It's the pulsation of the universe, the up and down, the contraction and expansion. It moves like the ocean. The universe undulates. And we don't have a choice about whether to play along. I chose to put it on my arm to remind myself that everything that goes up will come down; everything that recedes will crest again. And our work is to ride the waves.