Strangers scared me. But I liked to think that this was my one true fear. I wasn’t afraid of the dark or spiders or scary movies like some kids are, so naturally I thought nothing could scare me. I was wrong. I guess I needed to learn that acting brave wasn’t the same thing as being fearless.
But convinced of my invincibility to fear, I was all the more surprised when I visited the ocean for the first time at the age of seven.
Hurricane Sandy had swept furiously into New England in 2012, and left Massachusetts with enormous damage; flooding, downed trees, thousands without power. It also left the seashore crashing with amazing and terrifyingly powerful waves. My family, underestimating the effect of the storm, decided that this was the perfect opportunity to introduce me to the ocean.
Perhaps a particularly brave person would venture out into the sea in the conditions that followed the hurricane. But I was certainly not one of those people. Though the weather was clear, warm, and sunny, six foot waves still pounded the shore. On my first visit to the beach, I was completely in awe, and I did not plan on getting anywhere near the water; I was content to sit on the beach and watch.
Arriving at the beach, the first thing that hit me was the noise. It was in everything, the crashing of the waves and the quieter sound of the receding water. And then the sight of it hit me. All I could do was stare, contemplating the greatest, most impressive thing I ever could have imagined; the ocean. How could something so massive have lived simultaneously with me all my life, without my knowledge? Why did the earth not shake all over the world with each wave?
The more I watched, the more dwarfed I felt by the sea. The great and endless force of the water seemed to put every one of my experiences into perspective with the monstrous thing that now stood before me. My life and what small deeds I had accomplished disappeared into the great crashing waves of the ocean. I felt so infinitesimally small, as though I could disappear in the blink of an eye and nobody would notice, or perhaps that the waves would swallow me up and take the rest of the world with me.
The universe, which had always circled around me, now felt a lot bigger.
People ran and splashed, played and wrestled and threw each other into the water.. I stared at them intently, but my contemplations got me nowhere.
Stepping into the water would mean letting myself be a part of something much bigger than I was, and accepting that I had no control over it. I simply could not understand why or how people could let go of that control, could enjoy themselves knowing that anything could happen in the blink of an eye and there was nothing they could do about it. I could almost feel myself being pulled under a cresting wave or being dragged out into the never ending water. To me, stepping into the water meant surrendering myself to something that was unpredictable, uncontrollable, and more powerful than anything I had ever dreamed of. How could I let go of my control, little though I had?
Leaving the ocean hours later, I felt much the same, not having ventured further than my knees into the water. But having no wish to return there in the near future, my thoughts soon drifted from that thing that had fascinated me so much. But even without realizing it, I had been changed by the waves. Now, every time I began to slip into that familiar conviction of self importance, once again to feel that I was in true control, I remembered back to the ocean.
A little piece of the ocean continued to live inside of me. It wasn’t with my knowledge or consent, but it had changed me.