"Call it Courage..."
The dark, sunscreen-polluted water closes in over my head. The clouds on the horizon are already cutting the sun's light, leaving the water even murkier. I have about an hour before the sun sets and it gets truly dark in the water. Add to that my lack of eye correction (I am legally blind without my glasses or contacts) and getting to my target is going to be an adventure. Ironically, my vision is actually clearer underwater, than above. Something about the prismatic effect in the water makes my vision better for the meter or so directly in front of me. I can actually see the sand and coral heads beneath me better than the sun-faded red streak in the sky ahead that I assume is the wind sock.
Starting on my way, I keep thinking about how much I hate this swim. I've only done it a few of times before, but at each attempt I was panicked by the time I reached the sock.
The ocean is as enigmatic as God himself. Its sheer scale, no doubt, prompted the many myths and legends about the sea. And, no wonder it warranted its own god in Neptune, or Poseidon, or whatever you want to call him. As a human, wouldn't you want to hope that this incredible force of nature had someone to control it and hold it in check? Even in this modern day, how do you fully perceive all that it encompasses and the life and death that it brings?.
When I am out here, I barely register the other people around me. I feel all alone. It is as if I am traveling through space in my own interstellar spacecraft and if anyone is there, they are too far away to help. If I get into any trouble, I will have to sort it out for myself.
I make it to my destination quicker than expected. I don't know exactly how quickly, since I didn't start my timer until I was a third of the way there. Regardless of that, I haven't expended the amount of energy I expected to when I arrive at my destination. The intention upon arrival, was to do my 2-minute water treading drills 3 times and then swim back. It isn't until I am drifting past the mark while treading water that I realize the tide is going out and continuing my drills would result in me drifting further out to sea. Not my idea of fun. FRAGO.
Turning back, the same out-going tide that helped me out to the windsock fights my efforts to get back to shore.
I start to panic.
I don't like working hard in deep water, far from shore, and not making any head way. My breathing is erratic and thinking clearly is difficult. I just want to get out of there as fast as possible. The problem is, I am stuck in the middle of the ocean not moving anywhere quickly. To add insult to injury, some random older lady glides past me as if there were no tide to contend with.
If she could do it, so could I. Right?
I catch up to her once for about 5 seconds and then she was gone, her head disappearing into the unfocused distance. Clearly her technique is better than mine.
Trying to catch my breath following my efforts to stay up with aquawoman, my panic revs up and I have to decide what to do, quickly. I am starting to unravel. The only option that comes to mind is to put my head down and focus on swimming. So, I do. Stroke after stroke, kick after kick I focus on my technique. Am I streamlining effectively? Am I pulling with my arms at the right intervals with my leg kicks? Am I breathing efficiently? Finally, my brain occupied, the panic subsides. A calm sets in and my mind drifts elsewhere, now that my body is moving on autopilot.
My time on Maui when I went skinny-dipping alone, under the stars at Slaughter House Beach pushes its way to the fore. It was a beautiful night, stars shining down, unhampered by light pollution. I spoke to the ocean. Actually, in my youthful arrogance I challenged it - claiming my birthright as a Samoan. As if the waters of the deep cared about a puny human bobbing like flotsam in the surf. So young. So stupid.
Laughing to myself about my youthful hubris, I keep pulling rhythmically towards shore.
Then "Call it Courage" pops to the surface. It's that story by Armstrong Perry about this Polynesian boy, Mafatu, who is afraid of the ocean due to the circumstances around his mother's death. He eventually leaves his village because of the shame his fear brings him. He faces many challenges and overcomes them all. He becomes a kick-butt warrior as a result. When he returns home, his father doesn't recognize him, he has changed so much. Then, when his dad finally realizes that this is his son, he welcomes him home with honor and great pride. Not a great commentary on parental values, but then, who here is perfect?
I keep stroking my arms through the water as Mafatu's story rattles around in my brain. Possibly, my provocation of the ocean all of those years ago wasn't so arrogant. Perhaps the hubris had nothing to do with the ocean itself. Maybe they were an unanswered call to the journey for me.
I stop about 50 meters from shore so I can do my tread drills and then swim the rest of the way in. Over all a pretty successful workout. Not my best, of course there will be better.
While treading in the water, I think about the call I answered all those years ago - when I decided to embrace all of who I am. The good AND the bad. I have no regrets about my travels so far, because it has brought me here - ready to embrace change and "good livin'." The kind of living that will challenge my mettle and when I am bruised, hungry and weary I will smile to myself and hope that I can do it again tomorrow.
Journeys start when least expected and often, those called on the journey reject the call. But, eventually, a siren call comes along and it is time to take a trip.
I still hear the bugle call...