Ocean Lessons in Complacency

Oh, how well I remember the ocean. When I was growing up in San Francisco, we would make infrequent trips to the shoreline.  “Don’t put your feet in the water!” my mother would always insist.  “It’s far too dangerous.  Undertows and rip tides.  Sneaky waves.  Sharks!” 

My mom’s dire warning worked.  Well, her warnings combined with the ominous view of Alcatraz Island that loomed through the fog, way too close for comfort.  And the constant tales of would-be escapees who met horrible ends sucked down in undertows and rip tides, swept away by sneaky waves, and chomped between the razor-sharp teeth of sharks. 

When I went to college in Southern California, I was horrified to see my seemingly sane friends dash laughing into the waves. (Admittedly, Santa Barbara waves didn’t crash like San Francisco waves did, but still~!)  Bright, straight-A students actually went head-first into the ocean protected by nothing but a surfboard.  Some, who I never guessed to be idiots, dove in and swam out into the ocean!  Yes!  They truly did!

Well, I stayed in Southern California, home of the world’s safest beaches, and as the years passed, I forgot my Mama’s warnings.  I, too, swam in the ocean—doing my best to hide my creeped-outedness.  My children, born to the ocean, never even flinched.  And nothing  happened to any of us.

Which is why, when I moved to Oregon, I eagerly strode to the edge of the rocks to see the beauty of the Northwest coastline.  Complacent, that’s what I was.  Lulled into a sense of “Hey, really.  What could happen?”

But Saturday it did.  Rip tides caused what is locally know as a “sneaker wave.”  It crept around the coastal cliffs and without warning smashed a groups of smart, careful, wise teenagers.  Two young men were swept off the rocks.  Although their friends made ropes from their clothes and even risked edging into the churning water to grab them, they could do nothing but watch in helpless horror as the roiling water swept their friends away.

I’m sorry, Mama.  I should listen to you.


“Nature does not, in the long run, favour life.  If Nature is all that exists… [life] will have been an accidental flicker, and there will be no one even to remember it.”

C. S. Lewis “On Living in An Atomic Age”



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4 responses to “Ocean Lessons in Complacency

  1. You just never never about life do you. Being at those same beaches in the SF area I recieved the same warning from my mother. We didn’t move to Southern CA. we moved to Oklahoma so she didn’t have to worry about it at all.
    I love the ocean, hearing the waves slap the beach, and the salt water smell. There is nothing like feeling cool wet sand squish between your toes when your walking. I really don’t want to go in, because I don’t like what’s in it or being buffeted by the waves continually. Give me a lake anyday to the ocean for swimming, or better yet a nice pool.

    I think this life is playing Russian Roullette with us. You just don’t know when you will hear the big bang.

  2. There’s a lot to be said for living life ready for whatever comes, isn’t there?

  3. Jean Stewart

    Dear sweet Kay, I’m so sorry about those young people, too. How I’m drawn to the ocean, even though Atlanta was nowhere near the sea. When Bill & I are troubled we always go to the beach to just walk and take in the majesty. It reminds us that God is in control, His majesty is huge. But the ocean terrifies me. I can’t even stand to see that wave at the beginning of “Hawaii Five-O.” I want to be near the water but not touch it, not be too close and definitely not in it, and not on a cruise. The beauty enthralls me but I’m quite well aware of the unpredictability and stay far enough away to stay dry. My mother never warned me and my children smile indulgently at me while they dive into the waves and I pray for their safety, as I always do, whatever they’re doing. We just have to trust and breathe in the salt air. Love you, friend, Jean

  4. Oh, Jean, your sweet words refresh me! Thank you, dear friend.

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