beyond the surf and splashing kids to the
tips of tiny sails racing in the distance. The rugged pier that
stretched offshore stood 50 yards to my right and the majestic blue
Pacific reached for my knees with each vigorous wave.
I grew up on a lake and the sports in which I competed included
swimming. Water was not my problem. It was the ocean I had not yet
embraced. The restless and mighty waves fascinated me and what was
lurking beneath the surface gripped my imagination. Something about
sharks caused me to pause and consider the weight of my courage and
fear. My courage sank like a rock yet fear, powerful as it was, could
not defeat my pride. I dove into the churning, seductive white waters
and joined in the revelry.
The thrust of the waves and the tug of the undertow captured my
attention and soon I was lost in play, my physical yearnings peaked and
dared. I flopped and floundered yielding to the sea for in spite of its
mass and muscle it was, today, a gentle bully. One good thrust and one
good tug sent me upended into deep waters. I rode the swell above the
crowd with a grand view of the undulating, watery, people-packed
beaches. Suddenly, the swell dropped me into a deep trough where all but
the ominous sea walls vanished. My feet hit the sandy bottom briefly and
up again I rose. MAY DAY... MAY DAY... Head for dry land, full speed.
Negotiate the rise and fall of this formidable joy ride and head for
shore, post haste.
Up and down, again and again, my adrenaline in pursuit. I rolled with
the next big, wet smothering cushion and hoped it would take me to the
beach. My feet once more touched the ocean floor as I drifted toward the
towering pier and its breakwater protection. The exaggerated sea levels
diminished, my short-lived rip tide consumption left me both energized
and weary; most certainly humbled.
The great blue ocean, the vast, inscrutable and wonderful sea was not
yet done with me. I thanked God as I recognized a hazy onlooker, Panic,
and his assortment of devices to bring one before his Maker. Clever
rascal, I thought, as I continued to grope for shore. I was in reach of
the innocent and playful children now, their screams and laughter and
wiggling bodies a fantastic delight. We're in heaven for a day. I wanted
to hug them, lift them and toss them like my Uncle Johnny did at the
lake. Life was never more fun.
Up and down with smaller breaking waves, I struggled with confidence and
renewed energy... my foot stepped on something slick... something large
and smooth. A swell lifted me up and forward and, at last, I stood waste
deep in the foaming release of the big waters. What did I kick? What was
that bulky slithering object? I stood frozen. I was safe. I cast my eyes
in its direction and wondered if it was alive. Did I encounter a shark?
Was it a bather? I scanned the surface looking for movement and saw only
families of carefree swimmers. Seconds later I was back at the spot
amidst the swells, breakers and undertow; looking, searching, prodding,
again within the gaze of Panic... get ye behind me... There, hovering
beneath my kicking feet was a large figure of a man looking up, looking
still. Down I went to grab the hulk and drag him to the surface. I
fought frantically as he slid with the ocean's movements and slipped
repeatedly from my arms, my bear hug of insignificant might. We looked
like and sounded like all the rest of the mid-summer frolickers, only he
was silent. He made it to the water's edge where I dropped him. My lungs
ached as I lay on the wet sand like miserable debris. I saw stars and
thought wildly. The man, his lungs didn't ache. No stars, no thoughts.
Lifeguards added oxygen and electricity, two hours too late. Nobody knew
him. He jumped off the pier early that morning, so they say. Probably
around the same time I was posing for that dumb picture.