A couple of evenings ago I made the short walk to the beach to do my Spanish lessons. The wind was blowing strongly, white caps crested the waves, and the sailboats anchored in this normally placid cove tossed about roughly. After a few minutes of sitting on the beach focusing on my lesson, I noticed a small inflatable dingy in the rough water, with a man rowing frantically and a woman sitting at the bow of the teeny boat. They didn’t have a motor and the man was struggling to keep from being pushed back into shore, while he attempted to make it to his sailboat.
I refocused on my studying and after several minutes looked back up to catch sight of the man still furiously rowing. I could see that he was attempting to bring the dingy alongside his sailboat so that his wife could jump up and secure the little boat to the big one. However, each and every time he came close to their sailboat, they were pushed away by the wind and waves. I watched them intently. At least 20 minutes passed, and I imagined that he must be out of his mind with exhaustion and frustration. Then, in a cruel stroke of bad luck, one of their oarlocks broke and I saw the woman jump up to sit next to the man on the small seat and take an oar.
The whole scene was pathetic. I began to feel distressed. Fear built up in my gut. I knew that ultimately they were safe. This wasn’t a life and death situation, however I began to squirm with the knowledge of how much they were struggling. Their desperation was obvious and their strategy completely hopeless. They would never be able to get on-board their sailboat with the wind and waves working against them.
The sensation of distress I was feeling is very familiar to me. It is what I feel when I sense a case of animal abuse; when I witness an injustice; when I am afraid that something bad is happening. The discomfort I feel stems from my desperate impulse to jump in and help. My habit, however, is then usually to recoil and not act out of fear.
This time was different. I did a quick scan of the water, sized-up the waves, noted the direction of the current, as well as the distance of the dingy and the sailboat. I knew I could handle it. A surge of energy stemmed from deep inside me and literally rose me to my feet. I found myself stripping to my bikini and diving from a running start into the turbid water. Several waves crashed over my head at the surf break, salt water spray entering my mouth each time I took a deep breath. I swam out as fast as I could by doing the crawl stroke. After a while I switched to breaststroke to conserve energy. I’m not sure how long it took to get out to the dingy but I was grateful for the warmth of the water. As long as I wasn’t cold, I knew I was safe. I’m a strong swimmer and my swimming has only improved with all the time we have spent in the water recently.
I reached their dingy and as I swam up to them I yelled over the noise of the wind and waves for a rope. They looked at me in disbelief, my request not quite registering. I’m not sure that they had seen me coming. I repeated the command and they tossed me a short rope. I took it in my hand and told them to row as hard as they could back up to the sailboat. In no time we were by the stern of their boat. With my right hand I was able to reach out and grab the steps while hanging onto the rope with my left. With another strong stroke of their paddles, I was then able to clip the rope to the mother ship. It was done. They were finally attached.
The husband and wife stopped rowing. They were clearly out of breath and had a look of dazed confusion. I was standing on their deck and the man looked up at me and asked, “Are you a mermaid?” The wind whipped around me and I began to get cold. The after effects of adrenaline coursed through my blood and I started to feel weak and shaky. The couple boarded the boat, relief washing over their faces and asked me if I wanted a beer, margarita…anything at all. I knew that I had better get back into the water and out of the wind before I got much colder so I thanked them briefly for their offers and wished them well before diving back into the water for the swim back to shore. The warmth of the water instantly calmed me, though the waves were still quite large. The current was in my favor this time, so going back to shore took hardly any effort at all.
I went to sleep that night recounting the evening’s heroics in my mind. I liked the way I felt when I witnessed myself as a person who takes action when she sees that something isn’t right. I felt an inner rocking from the previous motion of the waves and was comforted by how the sea had kept me safe. I like how I feel down here and who I am experiencing myself to be. I am grateful beyond measure for this opportunity to get to know myself without the distractions of my first world life.