The following was something I wrote on October 5, 2015 when my daughter was only two years old. Today, while I was at close friend’s bridal shower, her mother took a piece of paper out of her pocket and read it to us. This piece is what she read. I wrote it six years ago and forgot about it, but I needed to hear it today, so I’m sharing it here. I don’t want to forget this again.
Bella loves the ocean. I mean she REALLY loves the ocean. She has a complete set of sea creatures that she plays with in the tub, she loves the sound of waves on her sound machine that she listens to at night, and she loves the sand so much that we carry all of her beach toys in the car just in case we see a big sandbox or a beach somewhere. Her sandbox in the backyard is full of sand and seashells from the beach where we go each year. It is her favorite place to play. When she was only two weeks old and we were both still supposed be at home healing, I took her to the beach for a week. The salt air and the sea ended up healing both of us. The ocean is in her blood and, like me; it’s what she needed. A year later, I took her back to the shores of Virginia where our family has gone for more than 20 years. Her love of the ocean had not changed, yet she was unwilling to go anywhere near the water. I kept trying to take her in, but she would cling to me and scream “no.” Though she had happily swum in pools several times, the sounds of the ocean and the waves crashing down was just too much for her in reality.
A couple months ago we went back to the beach and I tried to take Bella into the water. During the year, she had gone swimming several times, was very comfortable in the water, and still obsessed about the ocean. However, each time I took her down to the water and tried to get her to go in, or just put her feet in, she was unwilling and still terrified. We started this routine on Saturday and I tried each day, sometimes twice. Every time, she screamed and cried and did not want to go in. She was happy sitting back in the sand, chasing seagulls, and building castles. Thursday, we decided to go to the beach in the afternoon and evening since it had been an exceptionally hot day. About 30 minutes after we arrived at the beach Bella picked up her life vest, walked over to me and said, “Water, Mommy.”
I looked at her surprised. “You want to go in the water?”
“Yes! Water, Mommy.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes” she said fervently.
So, I put her life vest on, walked her to the edge of the water, and continued walking right into the ocean. Suddenly, she had no fear. The time had come. She was no longer afraid of the roaring sound of the waves. She was not afraid of the vastness of the ocean. She was no longer afraid of the unknown. I have tried so many times to get her to walk into the ocean and she refused. She just wasn’t ready. When it was time however, she knew she was ready. The experience came easy to her and to me. She smiled and splashed and loved every minute of it. The next day, she returned to the water as if it was something she did every day. She returned with confidence.
At church today we talked about times in our lives when something had to change. We talked about how people in our lives often tell us when that has to happen or how it has to happen even when we’re not ready. When we are going through something, anything, the people around us give us suggestions of how they got through something similar and hope that we can learn something from their experience. The thing is, until we are really ready, we can’t change. Each of us has to play in the sand for a little while and get used to the sound of the roaring waves. We must get comfortable with the vastness of the ocean. The courage within us must bubble up to the surface so that we can run with wild abandon towards the surf. It is only then that we can enjoy the freedom that comes with letting ourselves be vulnerable.
In the last few years, I lost my uncle and my dad, ended a relationship that I thought was forever, and embarked on parenting a child alone. With each major change, my friends and family told me stories of their own experiences. They told me how long the hardships would last, how long the pain would last, and how to deal with situations like these. At times I struggled and thought that maybe I was doing everything wrong. I found solace in the wrong places and with the wrong people. I searched for a way to make everything right. I longed for peace. I turned to yoga, therapy, travel, running, writing, drinking, misguided love, and food, but none of this was going to get me where I needed to be. I just wasn’t ready.
It wasn’t until my brave little daughter looked at me and told me she wanted to go into the ocean that I realized that no real change could ever happen until I was ready. Every one of us will have a pivotal moment in our lives where we either have to change something or suffer the consequences of stubbornness, fear, and not letting go. It may be a death, the end of a relationship, an addiction, job loss, abuse, fear, parenthood, or a tragedy. Whatever it is, it changes our perspective and expectation of how life is “supposed” to happen. The thing is that each one of us is unique. Not one of us will have the same experience or series of experiences. Some will come out of the womb craving the ocean and run to it. Others may take weeks or years to feel each grain of sand and turn over every shell before the time has come to go deeper. So think of others’ advice as rays of sunlight. Soak up each one with gratitude and feel their warmth. Just don’t force yourself into the surf until you are absolutely ready. It is only then that you will be able to feel each salty splash and allow yourself to be caught up in the new rhythm of your life guided by the tide.