When we arrived at Ogunquit Beach in southern Maine, we noticed the chairs, coolers and beach umbrellas were grouped yards from the water. Our group of Midwesterners opted to take advantage of the sandy real estate and set up camp closer to the waves. We frolicked for several hours, and relished being away from Boston for the day.
Mid-afternoon one of the guys in our group waved his arms and called frantically from the beach, “Hurry, come get your stuff. The water is rising!” We dashed out of the water, grabbed towels and sandals, and joined the experienced Easterners where they’d been sitting all along. I didn’t hear any snickers; their knowing looks didn’t require a soundtrack.
Chlorinated water contained in a concrete hole in the ground was my childhood swimming environment–central Illinois being short on saline shorelines. I swam all day and never worried that my towel would float away. My major concern was the adult swim. Every hour on the hour, the lifeguards stood on the platforms around their chairs and blew their whistles. Then the loudspeaker squawked, “Adult swim. Anyone under 18 must exit the pool. Now.” Bored and hungry, we lined up to buy Dreamsicles, popsicles, ice cream sandwiches and frozen candy bars. Some kids watched the clock and got in line before the whistle, but I couldn’t see that far without my glasses.
The ocean follows a timetable, too–one governed by the pull of the moon. The tide rushes in, and rustles over the sands, The water constantly moves, and the depth varies from hour to hour.
Even after decades of experience, I expect life to behave more like water in a swimming pool than on an ocean beach. I like the 4’6” marker painted along the side in large black numbers. I like being able to throw a towel on a chaise lounge confident it will still be there later. But like the tide, individuals, relationships, organizations, sports teams, churches and institutions fluctuate.
They slide from flourishing to struggling to flourishing to struggling, back and forth, back and forth. When sales decline, losses exceed wins, the sand dries out, friends move away, relationships end, the towel gets wet and my left sandal drifts away, the movement is unwelcome. Even when I know it’s a phase and flourishing will eventually return, I push back. I attempt to manage my circumstances like water in a pool, but my control invariably gets sucked away like the sand under my feet. When I finally relax and let the change filter like sifted sand between my fingers, when I can enjoy the saltwater’s shifting course, then change feels natural–even welcome.
The author of Ecclesiastes wrote, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). If he’d lived near the ocean, he might have added, “A time for the tide to come in, and a time for it to go out.” For us swimming pool gurus, learning to rise and fall with the flow is an acquired skill. Those who’ve spent time at the beach with sand pails, shovels and tide charts have a head start.