Riptides and undercurrents are dangerous. They’re why I stay in the yellow flags when I swim at sea. In a recent trip to the coast, I found the September waves strong enough to knock me over, pull me under, before they receded, and I emerged, gasping from their strength, the water not covering my hips.
All is busy at work. Aside from the diurnal duties of life as an academic (teaching, marking, responding diligently to email messages with answers that one can find in the carefully-laid-out handbook) this week, I have given an invited lecture, and shortlisted for my Research Assistant from a pool of over 100 applicants, only a handful of whom were, by their application, utterly unsuitable. The task of aligning an interview panel, and meeting each of them, awaits. The gravity of choosing one of them – of making the wrong decision – is daunting.
The decision, the work queuing behind the shortlisting looms large, as a coastal wave before it has crashed and broken on the rocks. As it hangs over me, as I am powerless to effect action over bigger tasks awaiting teamwork, my undercurrent consciousness is singing from another hymn sheet. The focus on work, rather than absorbing my attention, sees it paradoxically diverted, gripped by a line of suicidal intent, sub-vocal assertion to self-harm, a thread of self-hatred. It was quiet at first; this week it has gotten louder as I wait on others’ input.
At the coast, the way not to get pulled under the waves, is not to stand in the water in the first place, but to rest in it. In other words, to tread water, allow oneself to float in it, to rock gently. Or to ride on a board, the surge of power beneath the waves delivering one safe to the shore.
An older Christian once told me that safety is not found in the absence of danger, but in the presence of God. The waves are about to crash around me; I hear their distant thunder becoming ever more present.I know what it signals. I can stand firm, or I can let go, and let myself rest, accept that I need to slow down, even if it makes the undercurrent more real; even if I am swept under it for a while. I have weathered this kind of storm before. But the danger is real, and letting go is scary. Accepting weakness is hard. God, be in the storm.