Sleep isn't coming easy tonight. I am humbled by the power of nature, and churning in anxiety over the various possibilities of how our beach visit could have ended this evening.
We postponed our beach excursion this morning, hoping to wait out a stomach bug I seem to have picked up. We planned, instead, to stick around home for the balance of the day, and then head out to the beach after the sun's rays begin to ebb... sometime around 4:00PM.
When we arrived at the beach there were some wild looking waves pounding against the shores, but there were other people there already, playing in the surf and bobbing in the waves, so we felt comfortable that the water was safe.
Coming off of a confident surfing experience at a different beach, the kids plowed into the ocean, unmoved by the forces of nature crashing all around them. Matthew, in particular, grabbed a body board and headed out to some large swells, looking for the perfect wave that would send him shooting back to shore. While we found a more shallow area and stayed together, Matthew seemed to creep further and further away from us. Oblivious to both where he was and where he was going, he clung to his body board, pointed it towards shore, and waited for the powerful push of a wave. Being the fly-weight that he is though, he ended up just sliding up and down the waves, slipping further away from the shore rather than closer to it. I yelled repeatedly at him to come closer to us and to get to more shallow water, but my words were swallowed up in the chorus of the breaking waves. I would lose sight of him in between the swells, but no sooner would I begin to panic when I would suddenly spot his bright little pink head bobbing around. Eventually he saw my frantic hand gestures to come towards us, and when he managed to get back to shore, he started to make his way over to where we were at the beach.
Unfortunately, he didn't come all the way towards us, stopping instead about halfway between where he was and where we were. He got back into the water and made his way through the waves to the large swells again, ever eager for a perfect wave.
Though Matthew was having the time of his life, his mother was a nervous wreck watching him rise and sink in rough waters. Even his older brothers began to fear for him, and decided that Matthew, again oblivious to where he was or where he was going, was in danger. In what hindsight would call bad judgement, Ryan and Michael decided to go the the place where Matthew was to tell him he was in a dangerous place. It's easy to see the error of their thinking, now, but at the time, they were concerned for their brother and wanted to bring him to safety.
Matthew had a body board and was thus quite buoyant even in the large waves (so long as he stayed on the board), however, Ryan and Michael, as strong a swimmers as they are, were just two little specks in some powerful and large swells, being pulled and pushed with the yawn of the ocean. If it were just waves crashing, they would likely have had no problem, but with each push that the waves tried to send them towards the shore, there is an equally forceful sucking pull-back current that followed. The boys suddenly found themselves unable to move in any direction but out towards open ocean. Combine being pulled away from shore, with being banged around by large breaking waves, and they both began to panic.
Of course, Matthew had made it to shore by now and was wondering what was going on.
Meanwhile, I was still standing on the shallower sand bar, yelling to the boys to swim towards me, where it was easy to touch ground. Again, my words were insulated by the angry evening waves that rolled all around me. I screamed at them to make their way to me. Ryan was slowly making progress, and would alternate between swimming to me and floating on his back when he got tired. But Michael wasn't making progress and was screaming out for help. Ryan, in turn, began to panic for his brother and was screaming at me, in between waves, to let me know Michael was in deep trouble. Ryan was close enough to me now that I could be more easily heard, so I told him to swim sideways to me, rather than go for the shore. He again screamed for me to help Michael, so I swam into some of the deeper water but was quickly reminded that the waves were in charge and Michael needed to ride the waves to me. I screamed at the top of my lungs for him to swim towards me, sideways, rather than to try for shore. He cried back that he couldn't. In a voice I didn't recognize, I screamed back at him that he WAS to swim towards me RIGHT NOW! I could touch ground and he was GOING to come to me. Ryan eventually got there and we both watched with grave anxiety as Michael tried to make his way towards us. We shouted directions and encouragement, trying to get him to turn his panic energy into something more useful, like swimming to the shallower water.
We watched him roll around at the base of waves, get covered up in their breaks, all the while hoping beyond hope that his head would get closer to us rather than further away from us with the pull. His cries were filled with fear and I didn't know what else to do.
I don't know how long we were there like that. Likely not too long, but it felt like a tremendously lengthy period of time. And then, just like that, it was all over. Michael got just close enough to us that he touched down on the shallower sand bar, felt the sand at his feet and we were able to walk towards the shore. It was with great appreciation that we left the water, weak from fear but also from fighting the current.
So, I am deeply relieved we are all home together tonight. This could have ended in several other ways, most of which would have been devastating. But thankfully, it did not. And now I have the chore of trying to put my anxieties to rest, reminding myself that all is well.
The ocean is alive. Not just as a vessel for other sea creatures, but in a very poignant way. It gives and takes. It pushes and pulls. There is rhythm and timing, but also unpredictable power that can remind you of just how little and insignificant you really are in her vastness.
Much more has happened lately, mundane things that I will share in another entry on another day. But for tonight, I'm just grateful we're all in our beds, all accounted for, all a little bit smarter, and much more humble of our own limitations.