When I was a child, I was terrified of the ocean. That seemingly endless body of water was the domain of monsters I had seen on TV.
Whales like Moby Dick, who turned ships to splinters; Monstro, the psychotic whale that swallowed Geppetto in Pinocchio; and the great fish that swallowed Jonah in the Bible all lived in the depths of the ocean of my mind.
While those nightmare-creating denizens were the worst of it, a more realistic fear of sharks also freaked me out.
Next were jellyfish and stingrays, which were the only sea creatures that ever caused me any real pain.
Of those, jellyfish were simply a nuisance that caused itching and minor discomfort. Now, if you’ve ever been stung by a stingray, you know the meaning of ouch! Stingrays are pain machines.
The waves themselves were actually the biggest obstacle — noisy, powerful and threatening, they sent me to the beach many times.
In my young mind a big wave was like a big, uncaring hand that could hold me underwater forever.
Yeah, terrified sums up the feeling pretty well.
Little by little, however, I began venturing out deeper into ocean as gradually joy began to eclipse fear. But the fear never completely disappeared, since, like any rational creature, I know that a wave has the potential of landing on a human body like an upended city block.
We all know the feeling of being hammered with enough liquid weight to be pinned to the bottom of the sea, sometimes with no idea of which direction is up, for far longer than is comfortable.
It doesn’t take much, really. Even a 3-foot wave is beyond anyone’s ability to control. The best thing is to flow with it — relax until the power dissipates.
Of course, this is not always as easy as it sounds.
But, get past all that fear, and the time of your life may await. As the saying goes, “Your joy lies on the other side of your fear.”
So, does conquering fear equal greater joy? That seems right in one way, even though I find some of my greatest joy when I’m in the ocean with a few friends, the waves are small and glassy, and fear has taken a holiday.
Today, I was overcome by joy while playing in the shallow end of a swimming pool with my grandsons, Lucas and Marley.
Our favorite thing is for me to pretend to be a surfboard, submerge myself, and have them stand on my back, surfing, as I crawl along the bottom. No sharks, no rocks, nobody yelling, “Kook go home!” Pure joy.
On the other hand, winter is coming, and with it the promise of bigger surf and that haunting thought that I must once again try to prove myself against the ocean.
Of course, I will fail since nobody ever totally proves themselves against the ocean. We all simply determine where our limits are and stretch them as far as we can.
Maybe finding joy can be as complicated as dialing in the perfect quiver of surfboards and spending hours a day in training for the next big swell.
Or romping in a swimming pool with loved ones.
It really doesn’t matter how you arrive there. Whichever road you take, the idea is to give it all you’ve got and to enjoy the ride from start to finish.
Chris Ahrens’ latest passion project can be viewed at: youtube.com/GodNGangsters