The best job I’ve ever had was folding t-shirts for eight hours a day at a t-shirt shop in Nantucket. I was 19. It was the summer of 1999. I was there with one of my best friends in the world. It was there that I met another one of my best friends in the world. There were lots of days and lessons and memories of that time that I’ll never forget.
Like the day I learned about what to do when the waves come.
I was at the beach with Aine, my new friend from Ireland. We were enjoying our day off on an empty beach. It was hot and the waves were fun that day. We walked into the water and jumped a few of them. Then swam out to catch the next one. Then swam out farther still to the next one.
Within a few minutes, my feet could no longer touch the ocean floor. As Aine made her way to shore, I started to swim towards it. However, regardless of my plan to join her on land, I was being pulled in the opposite direction.
I didn’t know about rip currents or how to swim parallel with the shore to get out of them. I was from North Dakota, after all.
So, aimed directly for the shore, I’d swim a few solid strokes and a wave would come and crash on my head while the undertow pulled me out farther. As my efforts increased, so did their intensity. I swam harder, faster and took in a few mouthfuls of salt water.
I looked up. Aine looked so small. She stood there, looking at me, not really sure what to do. There was no one to ask for help and no lifeguards at that particular beach. I could feel her silently cheering for me.
Thanks to years of summer swimming lessons, I was a decent swimmer. By this point, I was exhausted and still had a long way to go. But I had my sights set on the shore. I was going to make it or die trying I decided.
So I muttered some kind of Help me, God prayer and kept swimming.
And finally, after about 25 minutes of solid swimming with every ounce of will to live and energy and strength in my body, I could touch. The sandy ocean bottom never felt so good as I walked onto the shore. I collapsed onto my towel, heart pounding, gasping for breath.
But I made it.
I didn’t realize the severity of the trouble I had just escaped, at first. Once the shock wore off, I let a few silent tears roll down my cheeks. I could have died. That’s a harsh reality the first few times you’re faced with it.
And while I haven’t been caught in anymore rip currents (thankfully!), the waves of life still crash on my head every now and again. Since then, I’ve learned about rip currents and what to do when the waves come, both in the water and out.
The answer that’s worked for me when the waves of life come: Resolve to make it or die trying. Face them with every ounce of strength in me. Ask for help. Stay strong and focused on the goal.
And just keep swimming.