The morning was radiant with sunshine on white sand, rays blazed through cloudless sky, and curling waves spewed surfers onto shore. Beach umbrellas dotted the waterfront and our freckled bodies glistened with SPF 50. Families were soaking in the last sounds of summer, ours among them. Saturday we took advantage of a picture-perfect day to go to the beach. The waves were stronger than usual due to the lingering influence of Danielle and the pull of the full moon, making excellent conditions for the weekend’s ECSC event (East Coast Surfing Championships). Nothing about that day to cause anyone to suspect that danger was lurking just a short distance from shore—nothing except the red flags waving from every lifeguard’s chair. The red flags indicated that strong rip currents were present, currents just below the surface of the water, ready to carry even the most experienced swimmer out to sea. When the red flags are flying, beach-goers are supposed to stay out of the water or at least go no farther in than to their ankles or knees. But many swimmers chose to ignore the warning whistles, putting themselves and the lifeguards in danger. This past weekend the Virginia Beach lifeguards made 148 rescues.
I wish life were like that. I mean, I wish we had lifeguards that could blow their whistles to keep us safe or rescue us when we’re in trouble. I wish avoiding impending danger was as simple as staying out of the water. But life is the water, and we’re in it up to our necks and even over our heads. Those riptides are out there, but we don’t know where they are or when we’ll be surrounded by one. On a perfect day without any visible sign of danger, we’re pulled under by a job loss, or by an accident, a diagnosis, a death, or some other unforseen and unavoidable peril.
So, what do we do with that knowledge? The advice to swimmers caught in a rip current is to swim parallel to shore until they find themselves out of the pull of the current and can safely swim to shore. In other words, have a plan. Don’t panic. The older we get, the more plans we need, it seems. We can’t live in constant anxiety and fear because we know what is out there. If we do, we miss seeing all the beautiful, cloudless days that we are blessed with.
Yes, the red flags were flying this weekend, and they will continue to fly with the approach of Hurricane Earl, but we enjoyed the beach anyway. And I will continue to enjoy the water for as long as I am given the opportunity.