We woke with the sun Saturday morning and walked out into a rosy eastward light where skyscrapers still mingled with the long, foggy tresses of the clouds. An abundance of caffeine and a shortage of breakfast in our bellies left both of us a bit uneasy. We walked hand in hand, silent as the streets sans cars and pedestrians. Though, surely I was the most nervous because I had planned this adventure after all. Soon, we would be smack dab in the middle of the oceans never ending salty, undulating, turbines with only a Styrofoam learner’s surf board to protect us. If any step went wrong, there was only one person to blame. If we didn’t enjoy ourselves or if some catastrophe were to somehow befall us, it would be an effort poorly spent. But I was determined.
During the week, my morning walks take me along a pedestrian walkway banked by a rocky cliff. It separates the dry land from the sea where surfers dot the waves, tumbling from the crests as they miss the wave or bailing before arriving too close to the rock wall. I have ample time to watch each wave. I follow as many surfers as I can, tracking the threshold of catching v. not catching a wave. I almost walk myself right off the rocks as a result of my preoccupation with the surfers in the water.
I envy them. They are a part of something I have always loved so much, more than a part of it, they understand it’s motion and have found a way to tame it with only a thin board strapped to their feet. Sure, I had body surfed, sailed, kayaked, and swum, but I was never allowed to surf- that was the one sport deemed “too dangerous” growing up (and perhaps that was part of the draw, as well). But growing up on the beach, I always felt that it was somehow superior to all the other sports. I wanted nothing more than to stand tall with the roiling white foam beneath me like a red carpet to the shore. Something about being so high above the waves on a polyurethane wafer all by myself, using the ocean’s propulsion to my own ends just screamed, “Conqueror!” to me. I wanted to be one of them. I wanted to be a piston in the ocean’s large engine.
But I’ve never been a conqueror of anything. Very few things have ever “come naturally” for me. I’m not just talking about being hapless at sports or hobbies here. For the longest time, something as simple as talking to people felt unnatural to me. I can’t even say I executed the things that did “feel natural” to me well on my first try, or if I did, they were worthless skills like being able to doodle repetitive shapes for hours on end without being bored, or being able to spend days playing with inanimate objects with the intent of “inventing something,” without ever inventing anything in the end except for cool looking contraptions that did nothing, and being able to make a stack of imaginary business cards for myself, or being able to harbor an inexhaustible host of needless obsessions (my weight, my appearance, what I’ve said or not said, etc).
Friends of mine, my sister and cousins would run around for hours giggling, chasing each other and coming up with impromptu games. It filled them with joy and they seemed to have all the energy in the world, whereas nothing could have made me more miserable. I felt perpetually slow and lazy. For some reason, “play,” as they played, did not come naturally to me at all. It got worse when I joined cheerleading and found that I not only had to make friends (which was challenging for me) but had to exercise for hours on end was a prospect I dreaded most days. Later in life, I watched coworkers and family members rub elbows with important people and network with ease, but I could barely stand five minutes of small talk. Friends of mine can play one instrument and switch to another, playing songs they know by ear and making up songs with ease, but I couldn’t even persist through the blisters of my small-necked electric guitar. My husband can pick up sports easily and can run for miles saying that he feels better the more miles he runs, whereas I have the exact opposite reaction. I couldn’t understand how these things seemed to be so easy for all of them, so natural when for me it was often a tiring and slow uphill battle.
When I use the term of things “coming naturally to me or them,” I don’t even mean that they be pulled off without practice or any sort of skill attainment, I only mean that they feel right, like somehow they are ingrained in the DNA. Yet, strangely, many of the thing’s that didn’t “feel natural” or “come naturally” to me were things I eventually excelled at. It was due to hard work and a seemingly constant fight against the homeostasis of my personality and bodily limitations. I’m a very strong believer that people we think are “naturally talented” at something didn’t get that way by being born good to it. More likely, they felt great doing it and practiced because they liked to do it and in time gained the skills or talents necessary to be successful at said thing. Only it seems to “come naturally” to them because they enjoy it and what may seem like a challenge or obstacle to someone who does not enjoy said activity as much, only seems like a new opportunity to learn and practice to the one who comes at it “naturally.” But I never got that easy joy and sense of confidence with anything.
Saturday morning was different. My husband and I donned our rash guards and carried our long practice boards over our heads to the beach. Our instructor spoke only a little English, so our instructional time was short to say the least. We were in the water before we knew exactly what we were to do. We paddled out to the small surf of the sea as the sun glittered the waves with golden light. I hopped on my board belly first, toes hanging just over the back of the board.
“Paddle, paddle, paddle,” my instructor shouted as I struggled to catch the wave and with a push he said, “Up!” Nothing felt more natural than standing. I pushed against the gravity holding my stomach to the board and felt the tension hold my feet steady on the board. I was doing it. I was really doing it! Sure, he gave me a little push and sure they were only tiny waves, but I felt good.
It took a good ride on a wave to remember I had always had that one thing that felt natural to me. I had lived so long away from it I had forgotten: water. In another life I would be a fish. I could swim, tread water or float for hours. In the water I’m weightless, I’m coordinated and I’m in control. There’s no need to go fast. I can take my time because everyone’s on their own in the water, responsible for holding their own heads above the current.
I loved paddling through the waves to catch each set. I loved each desperate attempt to catch a wave. I loved sitting on my board, just balancing until my next turn, but when the wave came, nothing felt more right, and more natural than standing. I didn’t over think it, in fact, I didn’t think about it at all. I just did. I relished a good tumble in the waves when I had to bail and that unfortunate gulp of seawater I swallowed.
I’ve often wondered if I was somehow born with an alternative genetic makeup or something because I felt so uncomfortable and uncoordinated where others seemed carefree and joyful, but I understand now that everyone’s got something they feel born to do or a place they feel born to live in and part of the journey of life is finding that one place. I’ve been a fish out of water for too long, gasping and squirming in a world I wasn’t made for. Now I’m home.