Lessons from the Ocean

Written By: Madyson Gillanders

The waves stirred violently in the distance, mustering up strength and height as they crept toward the shore, and rapidly dissipating as they reached the land. I knitted the coiled strap of my banana yellow boogie board- which I had dug out of a Target clearance bin-around my fingers, as I concentrated on the steady crash of each wave. Trailing the boogie board behind me, I submerged my feet into the water, allowing each successive limb to follow, until only my head bobbed above the icy water. The beach was fairly empty, as the hazy clouds enveloped the sky, and the sun was barely visible. A thin layer of fog blanketed the Ditch Plains beach, shielding the jetty of rocks to the left of me and the series of bluffs to my right. I could only make out the outlines of fellow beachgoers, as I searched for the tattered rainbow paneled umbrella and thick terry beach blanket my parents had laid out. I had spent the morning, supplicating my parents to bring me to the beach, so I could put my new boogie board to use. They warned me to be careful as they slathered sunscreen across my arms and legs, and frantically checked the surf forecast as I squirmed from their grip. “Be safe and follow the riptide rules,” my father called after me, as I darted towards the water without looking back.
I steadied myself atop the sturdy plastic boogie board, glancing off in the distance to find the perfect wave to ride.Today was the day, I had proclaimed to my parents- I would ride a huge wave, just like Bethany Hamilton,my childhood idol.After watching Soul Surfer at nauseam, I decided that I if I could boogie board, I could pretty much be the next Bethany Hamilton. Transitioning from boogie boarding to professional surfing was clearly the only logical progression for a seven year old to follow I fastened the velcro strap around my wrist, simultaneously paddling towards a white capped wave, which building in intensity as it advanced towards me. It was monstrous. “Finally,” I whispered as I flipped myself around, to face the shore. The wave began to coil, as it was nearly touching me. It was going to break. “3,2,1.. Go,” I shouted. Riptide rule number one, never ride the biggest wave during a riptide.
I felt the waves lapping in a vicious cycle above my limp body. Trashing blindly, I reached my quivering hand above the surface. It grew tired, dropping helplessly to my side, as the current began to pull me further into its grasp. The velcro boogie board strap had freed itself from wrist, long gone into the ocean by now. The thick salt water closes in on me from all sides, and quickly slips into my lungs. My limbs feel heavy, as I press myself up against the waves, slipping deeper and deeper into the riptide with every passing second. I could not breathe, but my lungs burn as the cold water takes the place of air. Riptide rule two,fight for air. With a final gasp for air, and nothing but a queue of bubbles form in the water around me, I gave into the riptide as my world faded to black.
The ocean. Where I spent countless hours surrounded by the sickly salted water, as the warm sun and cool breeze wrapped me in their embrace, and the waves cascaded over my body. I had grown up with the ocean by my side. Whenever I craved it, it would always be right where I left it. The ocean had become my playmate for quite some time. It would gently bring me back to the shore when I bodysurfed and swam, and it willingly contributed water to my crumbly sand castles and moats filled with the skeletons of “king crabs” as I had called them. But the ocean turned on me. It became dark and twisted, as it pulled me deeper alongside it. Only as I washed up on the shore, sputtering and coughing, did I realize that the ocean was no longer my friend. The ocean wanted to hurt me, it wanted to make me angry. I could forgive the ocean, but I would never forget what it had done to me that day.
Everyone and everything you love could change in an instant. The ocean, is a lot like a person. A person could love you wholly, and in seconds, the same person could take away everything you have, hurting you as they pull you into their vengeful grasp. It will sting and hurt, but then you will get back up. You can forgive the person for what they have done. But you can never erase what they have done. I will never forget sinking deeper into the riptide, but I have healed, and I will always care for the ocean.
‘It’s time,” my grandmother whispered as she fastened her silky black beach cover up around her tanned arms. I remained focused on the myriad of sand castles we had created. We used small shells to decorate the outside of the castles, and surrounding them we dug small moats. I stroked a small pebble which had acted as a door knob for the drawbridge on our first moat. “Do you really have to go? Look the ocean wants you to stay,” I breathed as I pointed to the lulling waves which rose and fell. “Yes my dear.” “Grandma I don’t want you to leave, but if you have to go, I have a present for you. Close your eyes and hold out your hands,” I beamed as I cradled the pebble in my hands and watched my grandmother place her hands over her eyelids and stretch out her arms. I placed the pebble in the palm of her hand. “Okay! Now you can open up your eyes.” My grandmother laughed as she rolled the pebble between her fingertips. “Thank you my love. Now I will always remember that the ocean is our special place,” my grandmother smiled as she outstretched her hand for me to grab and walked me back to our beach blanket. “Special place,” I repeated as I locked my fingers with hers.
When you are ten years old, you don’t think about your last time seeing someone. Goodbyes mean a see you at school or tomorrow afternoon. When you are ten, the world is your oyster. You believe that you have unlimited time, even when you don’t. Our day at the ocean was the last time I saw my grandmother. It is six years later. There isn’t a day when I am greeted by the sand’s warm embrace and the ocean’s salty hello, when I don’t think of the special place that my grandmother and I shared. The ocean was where we spent many of our days. We would scour the beach for the perfect shell of rock for hours, or swim in the calm ocean and float on our backs as we gazed at the welcoming blue sky. My magical place was, and still is, the beach.
A few weeks after my grandmother passed away, I returned to the beach. I stood near the frigid ocean and watched as it flooded over my toes, and coiled back up. The sky loomed with clouds, and it darkened as seconds passed. I searched for a delicate sea shell for a few moments, until I became tired. I left empty handed and upset. I stopped going to the beach for a while after that. A little while after my eleventh birthday, I returned to the beach. There was not a cloud in the sky. The water was warm. The waves were calm. I found buckets full of “beach treasures” that day, and even a full sand dollar almost the size of my hand.
The ocean helped me cope with the loss of my grandmother. It showed me that it is hard, at first. Losing someone can be dark, and that is okay. But there is light and happiness. You do not feel heavy forever. The first time I went to the beach it was dark and cold and I felt alone. The next time I went to the beach it was almost a snapshot of a perfect day. I was able to find the light, and the ocean showed me exactly how.
I still have a lot to learn, but the ocean has taught me many things thus far. It has showed me that people and things that you love can hurt you, but you can overcome and forgive.It has walked me through the loss of my grandmother. I’ve learned how to brush my teeth, how to solve for x in an equation, how to fill out a job application, how to be kind, and how to help others. But everything I really need to learn, the ocean has taught me.