Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sweat, Tears, or Sea

“The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.” – Isak Dinesen

The last school year involved a fair amount of both sweat and tears. At one point it was suggested that every time I cry at work I should get a pedicure; I am many pedicures behind.

In starting to write this I was hesitant to admit that sometimes I cry at work; I know some people will think that it makes me seem weak or unprofessional. I was getting ready to write a justification, but then I remembered that it's okay to cry:

Anyway, this summer I have been lucky enough to spend some time on the sea, which I think is the most powerful salt water cure.

There is something about standing in the ocean that makes me feel both insignificant and powerful. Insignificant because I am just this small, small person on the edge of a vast, unknown territory. Powerful because despite being up against something bigger and infinitely stronger, I manage to keep my head above water.

I usually first stand in the water facing out, so I can anticipate and react to the waves. But as I get my "sea legs" I turn and face the shore, letting myself be carried by the waves. I gradually trust in my ability to react to the waves even though I can't always see them. And if sometimes I get a face full of water? Oh well.

The ocean, like so many challenges we face, is huge and beyond our direct control. And while I find that frustrating in my work life, it is one of the things that makes the ocean so beautiful.

So much is beyond our control; sometimes we just have to trust in our ability to ride the wave, and keep our head above water. And even if we don't manage that all the time, it's just a little salt water, and we can prepare ourselves for the next wave.

Early on in the summer, I spent a day in Gloucester with some friends. While we were wading on the beach a little boy approached the edge of water. He was all limbs and belly, and watching him move I thought, "Ah, that's why they're called toddlers." And he loved the water. He moved as fast as he could get his legs to carry him straight towards the ocean. And, inevitably, fall either forward or backward onto the sand. And then immediately get up and charge full-speed ahead once again. Sometimes he'd start charging in the wrong direction, but as soon as he figured out he was no longer headed towards the water he did an about-face and headed towards the water once again.

I loved watching him approach something so big and so unknowable with such enthusiasm and joy; I loved that the last thing he wanted to do was turn away from a challenge.

The analogy became clear to me in one of those moments that I believe is only possible while standing in the ocean. There are challenges to face, but there are also forces larger than myself in play. I can run, full-speed, arms open to the challenges this year will bring; but that doesn't mean I have the power to control them all. I sometimes I wish I could choose which challenges I want to face, but then they're not challenges. You can't pick which waves come to shore.

And I was reminded, too, that I love the challenges. I can approach challenges with joy and with enthusiasm--even if the end result is a face full of salt water. That's all part of it.

This summer has been, very deliberately on my part, a time of reflection. I hope, as what promises to be another busy year gets underway, that I remember the sea, and that no matter how overwhelming things may seem, I can still stay on my feet.

With your feet in the sand, it doesn't matter what state your pedicure is in