.5 Seconds of Surfing

Two years after graduating college two of my best friends and I decided we should take some time off of work and go someplace we’d never been. So we did just that. We submitted our PTO requests and packed our bags for Costa Rica. It was one of those trips that has endless stories that begin with ‘remember that one time when...’ and taught us the meaning of pura vida and what it feels like to survive a 7.6-magnitude earthquake.

I think about that trip a lot because it was the first week of September 2012, and the timing always makes me pause because I was laughing and unafraid and completely unaware of what I’d return home to.

I was unaware that it was just a couple of weeks before Scott’s diagnosis and one month before Mom died because these were the days before I knew that cancer doesn’t care if you’ve just said ‘I love you’ and he’s 28 and you both thought this was happily-ever-after. And these were the days before I knew that depression wouldn’t stop once it had claimed my mom’s joy and that it would claim her life too.

I think about that trip because it was before I knew these things and now I live in the days of after, but I think about it for another reason too. I think about it because it was the first time I went surfing.

We were in the village of Nosara which is famous for its surfing, and while none of us had ever surfed before, we thought this would be the perfect place to try. If I’m being honest, to say that we ‘surfed’ may be too generous of a term to use. We took a lesson, and each of us managed to experience what it feels like to ride a wave (again, too generous of a term) for .5 seconds before crashing into the water in the most painful way possible and doing everything within your power to avoid being pummeled by the next wave that’s headed your way all too quickly while trying to prevent the 6ft-long surfboard that’s strapped to your ankle from hitting you in the face.

And we did it over and over and over again just for another chance at those .5 seconds. The crashing part was painful. Every time. And there was nothing graceful about the way we rode. And our bodies hurt long after the lesson. But we didn’t care because it wasn’t the crashing we were living for. It was the surfing. And because there’s something about getting knocked down time and time again, but never questioning whether or not you’ll be able to get back up that makes you feel something.

And that’s exactly what my therapist would tell me grieving is about. The therapist that I didn’t have when I went to Costa Rica because the only waves I knew were the ones you laughed off when they knocked you down, but that was in the days before. In the days of after, the waves I was introduced to were entirely different. They were unexpected and merciless. I never knew how hard they’d hit or how quickly I’d be able to stand back up.

So what I learned is that grief isn’t about trying to predict the waves or avoid them altogether, running for a false shoreline. Instead it’s about acknowledging the fact that you’re still standing even after they’ve crashed down. Because you do always stand back up even when you’re in the midst of the waves that leave you guessing. They’ll come crashing in, but you’ll be left standing when the waters calm.

It’s a good thing to remember when the waters are rough, but it’s not the only thing I’ve come to learn. I know more about waves than just how to stand up after they pull you under. I know what it’s like to surf on top of them for .5 seconds too because 24 years with my mom and 2 years with Scott feels about like .5 seconds of life and while that time was brief and the memories are fleeting, I can know that I’m swimming in the same ocean that I once surfed in.

So just like the time in Nosara, I’ll keep falling and I’ll keep getting back up. It’s not always pretty and most definitely never graceful, but the bumps and bruises I have now don’t tell the story of someone who has been beaten up by the waves. They tell the story of someone who knows what it’s like to have surfed.