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I’ve lived in a beach town most of my adult life, so I guess I’m pretty spoiled when it comes to soaking up the sun, wiggling my toes in the sand, and getting lulled into la-la land by the sound of the surf. I had one of those “aha” moments recently, however, when I realized that, like the barber who fails to get a haircut, or the artist whose walls are bare, I am guilty of taking my surroundings for granted. Worse, I’ve spent entire weeks without even once actually getting close to the ocean. And the reason this year was very bothersome.
When my kids were young, heading to the beach was the only option on a summer day, because as any mother worth her saltwater will tell you, there will be no end to the pleading, whining and crying if there is a beach close-by and your youngsters aren’t on it.
I was born in Indiana, so the beach has always felt very exotic to me. My sons, on the other hand, were both born right here in California, so they literally took to their surroundings like fish to water. They could boogie board, surf and kayak practically before they could walk. I, on the other hand, feel very contented just sort of moseying around ankle deep, enjoying the ability to refresh myself without getting sand in places I’d rather not mention. I love to watch the crabs do their silly “perp” walk. Have you ever noticed that they always look like they’ve just been caught doing something wrong?
There is something very primal about the ocean. Perhaps it’s because we all started out in salt water, I don’t know. But I find that I’m both mesmerized and terrified by its ebb and flow. Whenever I actually venture out to snorkel or kayak, it is always exhilarating. I love the way the water moves my body. There is nothing more refreshing than the first gasp when you enter the water and wait for your body to sort-of climatize itself. And on the other end of that spectrum, there is nothing as soothing as running out of the water after a swim and plopping on a big beach towel while the sun and air dry you. I can remember dozing off almost hypnotized, just watching the salt sparkle on my arms as the water dried on my skin.
When I was dealing with breast cancer, once I’d completed my chemo and my blood counts were stable, I spent a lot of time at the beach. I loved the way it reconnected me with life. Sometimes I would weep with sorrow, other times with joy because there wasn’t a single visit where I wasn’t overwhelmed with the beauty that abounds in nature. I would watch the seals bark and dive, or pick up sea glass and shells. Sometimes I’d be really lucky and get to see a pod of dolphins leaping and frolicking just a few yards out. There was something very life affirming about just being in the moment – in those moments!
I often envy the animals because at least from my perspective, it doesn’t appear like they fret and worry about what is going to happen next. I’m glad I have a brain that realizes I can’t follow a ball into the street when there is a car coming, or any other multitude of dangers we’ve been taught to avoid. But I can’t help wishing sometimes that I didn’t have to overthink things so much either.
This summer, my overthinking really got in the way. I heard on the local news that we have a great white shark in the waters just off our coastline. You’d think from my reaction that I was an avid surfer or, at the very least, ventured out into the open water. It’s been years since I’ve seen the movie Jaws, but I can assure you the theme song was stuck in my head for weeks.
My friend Erin, who actually is an avid surfer, scoffed at my fears. In fact, she reminded me that I was the one who had told her that life is all about facing your fears and moving forward. I assured her that if I faced a great white shark there would definitely be a lot of movement, and hopefully most of it wouldn’t be in my pants!
She asked me if I knew how many people get killed by sharks each year. I’m thinking it must be a huge number because of all the fuss. Well, I was wrong. Most years there are between 5 and 15 fatalities attributed to shark attacks. Just to put this in perspective, about 100 million sharks are killed each year by humans. So if you ask me, it’s definitely the sharks who should be wearing the Depends®!
When you consider that 7.5 million people die from cancer each year, it makes worrying about a great white shark seem pretty silly. In fact, it made me feel pretty silly for worrying about anything I can neither prevent with any certainty or change. I decided that it was time for me to do more than just get my feet wet, I needed to put on my big girl pants and jump in. Not just into the ocean, but into life.
Now, if I’m going to worry about something, I worry about something tangible. Something I may actually control. Something like making sure I’m not consuming high fructose corn syrup. You know, something that really could do me bodily harm. I guess you could now say I’m chicken of the Hi-C™!