52: I Left My Pride on the Beach

52: I Left My Pride on the Beach

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

I Left My Pride on the Beach

We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.

~George Bernard Shaw

“What did it feel like?” my husband Art asked.

“Great!” I responded. “It’s like riding a bicycle; even if you haven’t done it for a long time, you don’t forget how.

I think I did it for the first time on a canvas-covered inflated rubber mat, in the Atlantic Ocean, when I was in grammar school.

Riding the waves, that is.

I’ve known how to swim for as long as I can remember. I’ve been told that my father took me into the warm water of the Atlantic before I learned to walk. It was my dad who taught me how to handle myself in the sea.

I loved paddling out into the surf on my rubber mat, turning, and catching a big wave. I felt as if I’d been shot out of a canon as I flew toward shore. I was fearless. I went into the water when the red warning flags were flying, along with other local kids and the lifeguards, all of us tanned dark brown, our hair bleached blond by the sun. When the surf was up, the tourists were afraid to go in the water, and we had the waves to ourselves. After my dad died, when I was eight, swimming brought me closer to him and helped to heal my aching heart. I thrived at the beach.

My husband and I now live near the Pacific Ocean. When our children were born, it was my turn to hold their hands and pass on what I’d learned from my dad and from my own mistakes, teaching them to gauge the sets. Watch the water for a few minutes before you go in. Dive under this one, jump over that one, ride this one! No wait, there’s a bigger one coming. Don’t turn your back on the ocean! Pull out of the wave before you get dumped!

Boogie boards were in by the time our kids were riding the waves. Our son was just like me: fearless on his board. No wave was too big. Eventually, he moved up to a surfboard. I borrowed a boogie board from time to time, but spent most of my time in the water body surfing.

Then, in my early fifties, years of running, hiking and biking caught up with me. I started having an annoying pain in my left hip. By the time I was in my late fifties, the pain was excruciating. I couldn’t sleep, had difficulty driving, and walked with a cane.

In 2003, I had my hip replaced. The surgery went well and the replacement has been a blessing. My doctor cautioned me then, and cautions me each year when I go for a checkup, that I need to take precautions to prevent dislocating my miraculous hip.

Dislocation is painful, usually requires surgery, and makes it easier to dislocate your hip in the future. No more bicycling and cross-country skiing, because I might fall at an odd angle and pop my hip out. And I had to face the truth: After the surgery, my balance was off.

The thought of getting flipped over and tossed around by a big wave scared me. I did my swimming at the Y, one-half mile or more each time.

When I do swim in the ocean, I pick my beaches with care. For my money, no beaches are better than those on Kauai, where we have vacationed for over thirty years.

My husband and I recently spent two weeks there with our son, his wife, and their two teenaged children. I swam or snorkeled every day in the calm water near the Poipu Beach public park, where even a grandmother with a hip replacement can get in and out of the water without being knocked over.

Then I’d walk to Brennecke’s, a famous body surfing and boogie boarding spot, where the waves vary in size from big to huge, and watch my family in the surf. My son taught his kids everything I taught him and then some, and our grandson is fearless, just like his dad and just like I was when I was his age. What my dad taught me all those years ago had been passed down to his great-grandchildren.

One afternoon I was sitting on the beach, watching my family do something I had loved. When, I wondered, had the fearless person that I used to be disappeared? When had I become so timid?

My pity party was interrupted by my son, who ran out of the water, grabbed me by the hand and told me that he was taking me boogie boarding. He worked as a lifeguard for years when he was in school, he’s a good four inches taller than I am, and I felt safe with him. My granddaughter carried the board for me and my grandson stayed near the shore to grab me in case I flipped over. I was embarrassed as they helped me into the surf. I must look like a feeble old lady, I thought.

My son handed me the boogie board and gave it a shove.

“Here you go, Mom.”

I took off. I still had the moves! The old familiar thrill came back. And I did flip over and get tossed, but I didn’t care how silly I looked when my grandson helped me get to my feet.

“Again!” I said, over and over.

My son was on a roll. “Let’s go snorkeling in the cove,” he said. We loved the cove because you were in deep water almost immediately and got to swim with fish you never saw in shallow water.

“Are you sure?” I asked. I’d given up on the cove because of the rocky entry and the waves, which made getting in and out difficult even when I was younger.

But I went. As I stood by the water with my snorkel mask and fins on, my son took me by the arms and pulled me into the water. It was just as beautiful out there as I remembered. When I was finished snorkeling, it took all three of them to get me out as the waves and currents knocked me around.

I left my pride on the beach and discovered that it’s never too late to do something that makes you feel like a kid again. I’m ready for new challenges.

Anyone for the zip line?

~Josephine A. Fitzpatrick

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