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Sea of Doubt
The sky is slightly overcast and mirrors the grey water in the ocean. The sand is grey. The weather is grey. Everything is grey. Remember the illustrations of a typical beach day in children’s books: The sand is crème, the atmosphere is the crayon color “sky blue,” and there are only a few of those marshmallow clouds. There’s usually a big umbrella and a red and white striped ball sitting in the sand, not blowing away. This was not one of those days.
Regardless, we came all the way from the desert. Even though it didn’t turn out to be the “perfect” day, today was the designated day to go to the beach. And so we got our oversized rectangles of terrycloth, put on the appropriate beach attire and headed out to the big blue. Because that’s the way it goes in my family. Stick to the plan.
And, of course, despite the weather being less than ideal, I had to go in the water. Why not? We had come all this way. That was the ultimate goal, wasn’t it? (At age 7, the metaphorical big picture did not occur to me. I did not see that I could sit in the sand and enjoy the view, not necessarily have to be part of it.) With my father accompanying me, hand in hand, we waded our way out into the shallow parts of that large abyss called the ocean.
Eventually my father was about collarbone deep in the water, still able to touch the wet clay on the ocean’s floor with his feet. My feet could not touch the bottom and so I was floating, my only anchor was my father’s hand, still holding mine, keeping me stable, as the tide would come in and out. As the tide came in, he would jump to keep his head and mine above the water. Sometimes it would splash us in the face, sometimes it would be weak and we would just move harmoniously with the wave, letting it lift us slightly out off the solid ground, and then gently place us back where gravity could stabilize us.
The latter happened a greater number of times than the former, and soon I felt
confident that I could handle the wave without the assistance of my father. I had a feeling, a burst of confidence and assuredness in myself, as if that was the only force that mattered.
“Dad, let me try this one on my own.”
And so he did. He let go of my hand. The tide came, larger and more ominous than the last few that had built my confidence. A combination of excitement and fear churned in my belly. Then the wave came crashing down on me. As if unconscious, I was dropped in a washing machine and only woke from my coma after the door was closed and the cycle was selected.
Tumbling in my own washing machine from hell, unable to tell up from down, surface from floor, sea kelp from sock, I felt a hand grasped my arm and plucked me out. I tasted the air and never felt so alert, clear.
“Thanks, Dad. You saved my life.”
My whole life I prepared to go to college. That was the big plan, the day at the beach. My father took me to visit numerous colleges, provided me with SAT tutoring and encouraged good grades and extracurricular activities. By the time I got to the application process I was burnt out. Everything was grey. We were already in the water, collarbone deep and although my father was confident in our plan, my feet couldn’t feel the clay on the ocean floor.
I was, however, confident in myself and thought I knew what I wanted. So I deviated from the plan. I asked my father to let go of my hand. Instead of applying to the Ivy League, top-notch schools we had seen, I picked my Ivy League equivalent, my top-notch. I picked the honors college at my state university out of the masses, like picking a seashell out of the sand. Instead of pursuing a major compatible with med-school, I applied to be a theatre major.
Then the big wave of self-doubt came. It crashed down on me and I was lost in a cycle of “Did I make the right choice?” “Am I going to the right school?” “Why am I a theatre major?” “What am I going to do with that?” “Do I even like theatre?”
Although the wave of doubt sent me tumbling, my father’s plan pulled me to the surface of clarity. It turns out I don’t want to pursue theatre as a career. Like a tide, I had been carried away with my deviation from the original plan. I actually enjoy a plan. That’s why I am content now that I changed my major to English Literature (compatible with pre-med, but not entirely mainstream) and feel confident once again in my venue of education.
Even if occasionally I deviate from his plan, let go of his hand, even if I don’t have a solid foot in the sand, I know that my father will always be an anchor of guidance and clarity.
Just as I don’t know where I would be if my father’s hand hadn’t found me in the ocean, I don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t been caught in a wave of doubt, if I hadn’t remembered my father’s plan in my fit of deviance. Once again, I find myself in a situation where I need to turn to my father and say, “Thanks, Dad. You saved my life.”