On The Nature Of Waves & The Value Of Sisterhood
I had reached the point where I could no longer cry. Less than two weeks out from my surgery, I tried unsuccessfully to make myself comfortable on the same couch where only a handful of weeks before I had sat as we discussed my release from her care. Now it felt like I was back in therapy 101.
“I feel like I am standing on the shore, and every time I think I’ve found my footing, another wave comes and sends me crashing back to my knees,” I tell her, trying in vain to put words to the way my new diagnosis felt. She knew better than most anyone. She has listened for years though the details of my childhood, my first cancer bout, my divorce, my recovery, all of it. She knew I had just paid off the medical bills incurred from my first time through the flames of cancer – that I might finally be able to afford to replace my ten-year old car. She knew I had just been told - just weeks before – that my risk for a recurrence was less than 1% - that I had finally stopped maxing out my health care flexible spending account and finally diverted those funds to retirement savings. She knew that I had just counted myself among the safe.
And then the wave came.
* * *
“You have got to be kidding me.”
The surefire way to kill my zen? Unexpectedly put me in a hotel room with two complete strangers. And have them arrive ahead of me.
I walked into my hotel room for the first night of my Costa Rican adventure to find belongings on both beds of the hotel room I would be staying in for our first night.
Have I mentioned sharing a bed with almost anyone near kills me?
I take a few deep breaths and decide to remember that I have just as much a right to be there as anyone else (I had been creating a story in my head around the idea that these women were best friends who would surely be put off by my presence). I put on some music and take a shower. I am in the midst of reorganizing my suitcase when I hear a key in the door. I brace myself.
“I know you!” she squeals, reminding me at a rapid-fire pace that we had been in an Ayurveda workshop together several weeks ago.
A ball of wild, curly-haired, feminine energy has blown into the room and within five minutes I adore her.
Within thirty minutes our companion (who, in fact, did not know the fiery goddess who reentered the room ahead of her – beware the stories in your mind) has returned and the three of us are cuddled up in the beds like old dorm-mates, sharing the stories of our lives while passing around lotions and oils. Its as if we share DNA along with a room for the night.
* * *
We are standing in the warm, salty waters of the Pacific Ocean, nary a swimsuit between the seven of us. She tells us to find our own little patch of water – our own quiet floating place – and to spend some time reflecting on our relationship with water.
That’s when the memory of that day in my therapist’s office comes flooding back. I can’t remember that last time I thought back to that analogy – or if I ever had at all since the day I spoke it.
And then the realization strikes me. Like a roar of thunder in the middle of a quiet summer’s evening.
I suddenly realize why I had always felt like I was being taken down by the waves.
It’s because I had continually kept myself perched on the shore.
* * *
While the calendar tells us we have been together for seven days, as we move around our shared room the five of us prattle on about how it somehow feels like months have passed since that first night in the hotel in San Juan. In the way that sisters do, our belongings are scattered among each other’s, and given just one more day it’s a safe bet we may not have known who had brought what into the space on arrival. We draw comparisons to summer camp and the first year of undergrad and make all the promises to keep in touch and to see each other again soon.
I find myself thinking this must be what having a sister feels like.
While I do, in fact, have a biological sister, we are not close. That last sentence is actually a gross understatement given that we have not seen each other or exchanged words in going on nearly five years. In the fifteen before that, our interactions were sparse, at best.
But God did give me a sister. My mom’s best friend would have a baby girl just a week shy of six months after I was born. We grew up doing nearly everything together, and while I see her and speak to her far less than I would like, she is my touchstone in many ways. The only real link to a childhood I barely remember. She is the person who somehow knows when I need to hear from her – sending an email checking in just when things seem to be falling apart, even if we haven’t exchanged a hug in months.
But its been decades since we have lived in the same place. So grownup sisterhood is not something I have had much experience with.
* * *
As the memory hits me, I am floating out among the waves. And it occurs to me that this is where we are all meant to be.
Floating out there, in the orbit of the waves’ crashing point, I can see the swelling of what is to come. Each approaching wave possesses the ability to be enormous. With each new swell I can feel my heart bracing – trying to anticipate the crash that is to come.
But the thing is – my heart can never predict it. There is simply no way to know as the wave moves in what form it will ultimately take.
As I sit there, too far from the shore to retreat there quickly, I discover that many of the waves I feared were smaller than I expected them to be. I bob over them easily, effortlessly, never losing my footing or my sense of where I belong.
Some are larger than that. Large enough to knock me around a little bit, but I land pretty effortlessly and generally avoid the crash of the wave.
Then there are the ones that are legitimately huge and I am faced with a choice. I can stand there and let them crash over me – shoving me wherever they might and usually causing me to lose my hat, my sunnies, my hair tie, or all three. Alternatively, I can take the reins and dive in before the crash. I can shore up my courage, plug my nose, shut my eyes, and leap forward, into whatever might lie beneath the foaming cap that is approaching.
As I do this, I am uncomfortable. Who knows what lies beneath that water? Who knows where I will ultimately come out? But the majority of the time, the swim isn’t too trying, the water isn’t too cold, and I come out the other side a bit short of breath but otherwise no worse for the wear.
Now and then, though, my dive is met with the unexpected. A strong current might flip me around, seaweed may grasp my ankles. At times I lose the grip on my nose and find myself flooded with salt water, I may stub my toe on a rock. But ultimately, one way or another, I come out the other side of even those rough waves. A little bit tumbled and maybe coughing up its remnants, but I emerge into the air, shake my head to clear my ears, and prepare to do it again just as I hear one of my sisters call out “is everyone okay?”
Sure – there is always the risk of drowning. But out there in the water, I almost always end up okay.
* * *
Early on in this year of upheaval, I heard the saying “if you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat.” What they forget to tell you in that phrase is that you have to get out while you’re still out there adrift – not once you’ve pulled up to the shore.
This can be difficult to do. We all long for safety. We like to keep our eye on the shore. But while the shore may make us feel safe, it is not the place where we belong if we are to truly live. We are meant to be out among the waves – bobbing and diving and perhaps floating further out than we ever anticipated we would allow ourselves too. We must we willing to jump into the scary waves – trusting we will find our way through to the other side, whatever may lie below the surface.
It is only here that we can truly find what it is that life is offering to us.
If we are lucky, we will pick the right moments to jump, the right moments to simply float. We will laugh as the cold patches hit and marvel at the view of the sunset from the vantage point of the waves. If we are lucky we will pick the right points to dive in and mange to find our way to the other side, again and again.
And, if we are extra lucky, we will have sisters floating out there among their own waves, ready to call out to us just as we come up for air.