My earliest vacation memory is the ocean. Everything lives in superlatives in the past, especially if you’re young- bigger, stronger, longer, colder. We drove across this giant bridge in Pensacola, FL that took days to cross. I envisioned our car barreling over the rails and into the mouth of Jaws, a big thanks to my negligent parents for letting me watch that demonic horror flick in elementary school. We stayed on the bayside and built sandcastles and ate fresh seafood every night. Memories are funny that way.
Another time I was in high school and we visited the East Coast of Florida- New Smyrna Beach. A tropical storm was brewing in the Caribbean and had sent its fringe fury toward our beach. My dad stood on the shore and watched me and my two brothers body surf for hours. The waves were the largest that I had ever seen, towering above us before they crashed over and over onto us. We would position ourselves, backs to the chaos, facing the sands. As the beast would pull to swallow us whole, we would begin to swim, flailing arms, motoring feet. Timed just right, we could float to the surface of the top of the wave and let it rumble underneath. Tossing and crashing below, we could feel the uncontrolled fury just below our bellies as we tamed one wave at a time with little doubt that it could turn on us at any time and pummel us into the scattered sand.
Late last summer we were invited to some friends’ house to watch the kids swim and barbeque. Tiffanni hadn’t swam in over a year. I was too scared of what her body would do. It felt like another taken for granted pleasure ripped away by this disease. Dis-ease, it makes sense when you see it that way. Somehow my friend talked me into letting Tiffanni swim. “I’ll swim with her and won’t take my hands off of her. It’ll probably cool her down.” Another unforeseen consequence, because she never stops moving, she’s constantly burning calories, always hot, always sweating. I acquiesced.
And something happened. Unexpected. Not just unexpected, the opposite of what I expected. Her body stilled, slowing to a rhythmic exhale and inhale, and she swam. Wrapped in a fluorescent purple noodle, she glided around the pool. Her arms motionless, her legs calm, a hushful peace buoyed her in the salt water swimming pool. It was as if she had stumbled upon Ponce de León’s healing waters. Huntington’s and gravity, now reckoned powerless, traded places with Tiffanni as she regained control if only for a few moments.
For the rest of the year I anxiously awaited this summer. Was that moment an anomaly, or did water change the stars for a few moments for us?
Over the last several days we’ve spent some time at the beach as a family. It’s ironic that the beach, which requires so much work- sunscreen, water, snacks, an umbrella, a shovel and pail, change of clothes, beach chairs, boogie board- once entered, can be so undemanding. We enter the ocean, the great equalizer of effort, and we float. Where we are all the same. Where the normal life of the past revisits us. Bobbing rhythmically with the waves, absent of tedium, in tandem with the vastness of what unites the world. The ocean. And we all swim, all of us.