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The Perfect Wave

We waited patiently for the perfect beach day. It had to be sunny, not too hot, not too windy. The water shimmered blue-green as we left the city behind, impelling us to let go of any residual regrets like must-haves, to-do’s or should-have beens. We parked up on the highway and walked down what seemed like too many steps to the shore, but were rewarded and refreshed with a clean sandy beach and the waves rolling in like reassuring clockwork.

From a distance walking down, we’d seen some tents and what looked like kayaks and surfboards all stacked up. No sooner had we settled on a spot than we heard and saw commotion right near us. A small mob of teens and preteens all decked out in flip flops and t-shirts carrying boogie boards and slathering on their sunblock appeared. What had we stumbled into? Summer surf camp. They too had left the city behind.

We became participant observers. In no time, the counselors lined the kids all up, counted, and recounted heads. Told them what to do if a wave took them under, or a rip current pulled them away from the shore. And then laughing and screaming the kids tore into the water. I remembered all those beach days in my own life. There was that initial sprint into the water, wading out to catch the waves, diving under a few, trying to catch the perfect wave: not too big, not too small, near enough but not right on top of you. The good ones always came in sets of three. If you missed the first one the second one would do, maybe the third. And then it would be calm for a while until chances improved again.

The kids were all over the place. It was a trip to watch them try to catch a wave. Some of them caught on quickly, others could not quite get the hang of it. A lot of them fell off their boogie boards mid-ride, some got dunked by the waves and some had to pull back so as not to hit their teammates who were ahead of them. The counselors paddled around on surfboards or stood in chest-deep water cheering them on, encouraging them to get their board back, to try and try again. A few kids straggled to shore, needed a breather, to regroup, and drink a coke.

And then it happened. First one and then another surf camper rode a wave all the way into the shore. Grinning and proud they grabbed their boards and waded back out for more. Other kids who’d fallen off tried again and finally caught their waves. Even the girls who’d been holding back got into the game and one at a time started to get the hang of it. Lots of laughter, lots of high fives. Pulled and pushed by the water and buoyed by their peers and by a deeper impulse to meet a challenge, reach a goal, stay on course, and ride a wave all the way in. Their rite of passage was fulfilled. I remembered all the times I’d practiced body surfing, boogie boarding, trying to surf. Wiping out, stopping mid-ride to avoid a crash, and then riding a wave all the way onto the sandy beach. Finishing that ride in one piece, after all the false starts, poor wave choices, and challenges encountered along the way.

Such joy and relief wash over us as we overcome the mind games and fear that we fling at ourselves in such situations. A metaphor for life as a human. The importance of having a goal, of having a plan, of having the skill to pick the right race, the best opportunity, the perfect wave. Not only a wave at some pristine beach, but embarking on a relationship, a career, a calling, a journey, a dream. And always there is that moment of doubt that comes as we see others wiping out or careening away from what they set out to do.

And then there is that perfect moment and we just know that we ‘ve picked that perfect wave and we take a deep breath and take that leap of faith and know whatever the outcome the moment is ours to take. That day at the beach reminded me that nothing can take away the joy of riding that perfect wave all the way into shore as the sun beats down and the ocean shimmers, and for one perfect moment in time all right with the world.

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