Friday, May 3, 2013

The Day That Didn't Change My Life

I am 8 years old. My sister Sarah, who is 10, is beside me as we splash in the ocean. My mom sits on a beach chair a few yards away beneath a wide, green umbrella. The current, the waves, the briny sea air, the caw-caw of seagulls--everything is perfect. A perfect childhood memory. 

Sarah and I wade further into the sea, til the water comes to our waists, then our armpits. We duck under waves and listen, submerged, to the dull roar of the water passing above us. We surface. I turn toward shore, hearing my mom's voice in my head.

"Always look for the umbrella," she warned. "The water will pull you further and faster than you think."

She is right. As usual. 

The umbrella has drifted away to my left. I see my mom with her hand shielding her eyes from the sun, looking in our direction. 

"Here comes another one," Sarah says.

We suck in air and drop below the surface. The rumble of surf. Our long hair twines and twists in the churning water. Then the sea calms. I rise into the sunlight, expel my breath and seek another one. But my feet cannot find anything solid to perch on. Land has dropped out from beneath me. Only water, against which I kick, kick harder, trying to push my head fully above water to catch breath. My arms flail, fingers splayed. I know how to swim, how to tread water, but panic has caught me by surprise. I squeeze my eyes shut as again I am submerged. My heart hammers in my ears. I kick, struggle, fight to find solid ground.

Then I feel a hand on my arm, just above my elbow. I feel the rush of water against me as I am pulled forward, counter to the undertow that is eager to suck me into the sea. The sand of the ocean floor rises, chafes the bottoms of my feet. My face again finds the sun; my lungs the air. I blink away the saltwater and look up at Sarah.

She smiles. I smile back.

To this day I cannot remember what I did after that. While I distinctly remember the taste of that panic while unable to find my footing, I'm not sure I ever got out of the water. I continued to play with Sarah in the surf. I continued to keep an eye on my mom and the green umbrella. 

That day could have turned out differently. It could have changed my life, or possibly ended it. But it didn't. It now rests in my memory as another lazy summer day at the ocean. Sarah, I believe, saved my life that day. But she didn't know it. No one did. Not even me. She was just extending to her little sister her hand.

It is so curious to me how the times that we think should be momentous, often aren't. And the mundane, humdrum moments--like a lazy day at the beach--can hold such influence, such sway on the trajectory of our lives. Without even our awareness of it. It makes me want to follow Sarah's example and extend my hand a bit more often.

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  1. Wonderful post! And what a wonderful memory. You've rendered it so beautifully - I felt right there with you!

    1. Thank you so much, Kate. It's actually a shockingly strong memory of my childhood, and have struggled to capture it for awhile. I'm so glad you felt "right there"!

  2. Amazing writing! I felt like I was right there. Funny Kate said the same thing! Isn't it funny how some moments are built up so much in our minds and the others sneak right by?

    1. It's so true, Jennifer - and I'm so glad you felt "right there"--that is always my hope :)

  3. Anna,

    This is absolutely beautiful. Yes, I can think of a few humdrum moments that stayed with me as well. I came across your blog today, and I am struck by your writing, so vivid and heartfelt! I am really enjoying it.


    1. It is so nice to meet you, Stevie - thank you for your kind words! I'm so glad you enjoyed this moment of my childhood. I hope to see you around here again soon!

  4. what a memory...big sisters can be helpful sometimes. :0)


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