The importance of your mother’s words

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Posted Sat, Apr 10, 2010

Gang fights, monsters in the closet, and being burned in a fire are among life’s fearsome adventures, and I would love to admit that one of these instances revealed the most frightening moment in my life, but it would be false.  Oh no. What made my heart and stomach seem to collide was something much worse; something I thought to be so ferocious that nightmares couldn’t fully grasp the reality of.  And yet, in this most frightening moment of my life, an extremely valuable lesson was learned.  It seems cliché to recite, “Listen to your mother,” but I have never wished so badly than in those brief moments of my life that I obeyed her small words of wisdom.  This small lesson in life that she tried so hard to ingrain is as follows:  DON’T SWIM ALONE.

It all started at a harmless softball tournament in Portland, Ore.  All seemed to be going pleasantly when my coach announced, “Beach day!”  I jumped up off the couch to rush into my hotel room to put my bathing suit on when it hit me that there weren’t 11 other girls pushing and shoving to put their suits on as fast as me.  I turned around to see no movement except for the lackadaisical arm opening up the curtain to slowly look outside.

With no enthusiasm whatsoever and a look of disgust on her face, a nasally teammate stated, “But it’s Oregon, Coach.  It’s so gloomy and boring outside and the water is going to be freezing.  Do we have to go?”

My nerves went crazy because I thought my coach might change his mind and we wouldn’t end up going after all.  I gave him the puppy-eyed sad face and to my relief he said “We already rented the vans to get to the beach so, yes, we are going.  Be ready in 5 minutes.”  Immediately I continued on my frantic way of getting ready, and the van ride to the beach sustained my excitement.  The rest of my team, still unexcited to go, just gave me the look of  “Oh, Cat, grow up!”

We pulled up to the beach, and to my team’s pleasant surprise, there was a group of chiseled young gentleman playing volleyball.  The girl’s perspectives suddenly changed and they were now excited to be there.  We went a good hour playing with these boys, but as much fun as I was having, my eyes and heart were drawn to the water.  “Please girls, can we go swimming now?”

“Come on, Cat, you know the water is going to be absolutely freezing.  You wouldn’t even enjoy yourself.”  They must not know of my gift of persuasion because I finally convinced the girls to come put their feet in with me.

We walked down to the water and the second our toes touched it, we were utterly shocked that it wasn’t cold one bit!  I took off sprinting towards the deep ocean and once I was completely submerged in water, having the time of my life, I looked back at the girls.  They hadn’t gone anywhere.  They were still ankle-deep in the perfect-temperature ocean.  Along with being confused as to why no one else would take advantage of this beautiful moment, I also had a bit of guilt of disobeying my mom.  Sure, the last time she told me to not swim alone was when I was 3-years-old, swimming in the 12-inch deep puddle in my back yard, and now I was a 16-year-old, soon to be adult, but it still didn’t feel right.  Not only was I the only girl on the team to be swimming well over my head, but also as I looked around, I appeared to be the only one in the Pacific Ocean.

I lost the feeling of guilt as a wave crashed over my head, and I realized how much fun I was having!  Laughing and playfully screaming, I continued on my ways of childish fun.  Every now and then I would turn around to look far away at the tiny figures of my softball team, and it didn’t quite sink in how far out I was getting.  We would wave and they would give me that same grin of motherliness looking at me as if I were their 2-year-old child.  It was the happiest feeling that my heart and I could feel, and every now and then I would let out a chuckle of happiness.  I would yell things at the top of my lungs, “Woo hoo,” or “Yee haw!” or “This is the happiest moment of m-” Swoosh.

Everything around me stopped.  My body went paralyzed as I felt the same swoosh again.  A large, heavy, very alive body of fur was circling me, and bumping in to my legs.  When my brain’s receptor cells got the message that I wasn’t the only thing in the water, I went into a state of hyperventilation.  Screaming and flailing my limbs about, all I could think about was getting back on to the shore.

I started to examine my life, and came to a conclusion.  If I were meant to die out there, it was obviously meant to be.  I realized that my heart’s rushing tempo wasn’t afraid of death, but was afraid of what I couldn’t see.  Not being able to see what my enemy below the surface was in fact the most frightening feeling I have ever felt.  Thank goodness for swimming lessons, because it took my whole-hearted effort to even move against the undertow of the sea.

But those swimming lessons at the local YMCA never taught me how to react when a man-eating beast is toying with my legs before he eats them.  The enemy stopped brushing past me, but I could still feel the remembrance of the heavy, powerful creature that lurked below.  I swam with all of my might and when I was finally to the point that my toes could feel the sand, I started to send out distress calls.  My screams made no effect on the girls because they still couldn’t see me clear enough. To them, I was still having the time of my life.

If only I wasn’t by myself.  If only one other girl could be with me for support and strength to swim harder.  Why didn’t my mom’s words stick?  Why didn’t I know better than to swim in open water by myself?

I felt some courage build up and I decided to look behind me to see what my enemy was.  I slowly turned around, but nothing was to be seen.  All there was were waves crashing over my head and the misty sky above me.  I then tried jumping to see if I could see past the waves.  Not expecting to jump very high, I jumped with the wave and it carried me fairly high into the air.

There it was.  About 10 feet in front of me showed two black eyes staring right back at me. My heart took another leap sending nerves flying again, but when I jumped with the next wave to get a better look, what I saw was a friendly seal only looking for some company.  I fell into a perfect state of relaxation and laughed at myself for getting so worked up about it.  It wasn’t peaceful enough for me not to learn my lesson.

I gave the seal a smile, and then continued on my way back to the beach.  A little bit embarrassed, I began to think of the lesson I learned on that misty day in Oregon.  Swimming by myself would never be an option again.  I knew that I would always listen to my mom’s advice, and in result, I would be safe.  And then the dorsal fin of a shark started to circle me.

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