September 08, 2013

Between the Red Flags

This weekend Lady Hiva and I had an appointment in Virginia Beach so we couldn’t pass up the chance to spend time at the beach too. The Atlantic doesn’t quite meet the standards of Hawaii’s blue Pacific—but it was still the ocean.

Traffic out of DC wasn’t too bad and we were able to make it to the beach and get a hotel room that overlooked the beach. I miss going to sleep to the roar of the crashing waves.

The next day we went to our meeting then ate plate lunch at Aloha grill. Lady Hiva had found it months ago and was just looking for an excuse to go. I had a Loco-Moco and she had a BBQ plate. It was pretty authentic with Mac salad and everything. And no I didn’t eat the Mac salad. (I told you we missed Hawaii)

The day was PERFECT! It was sunny and blue skies with a small breeze. We rented a large umbrella and set up camp next to a Filipino family and we were right at home. Both Lady Hiva and I enjoyed watching the other beach goers as they enjoyed the beach. The screaming children as they run from the incoming tide, or the older people calmly watching from their chairs.

Lady and Lucky sat under the umbrella while I went to practice my body-surfing. It was a blast. It brought back so many memories of doing this with Trevor as a child or when Heather and I had crabs crawl up our legs once. There is something creepy about something clawing on your leg under murky water. I guess at least in Hawaii you can see what is going to eat you before it actually gets to you! HAHA.

About halfway through the day I heard all of the life guards blowing their whistles incessantly. I couldn’t understand why. The waves were perfect. Maybe it was a shark! I caught the next wave in until I knew what they were whistling about. I stood on the shore and saw why they were worried. The tide was coming in and the current going back out to sea was strong. Inexperienced ocean swimmers would not understand how to exit. Usually once they realize they were in a current they were out too far and then panic sets in and they exhaust their energy too quickly.

To keep this from happening they had placed red flags on either side of the current. At a beach waves come in and fold into each other at the same spot and that is where the current is the most dangerous. Despite the whistling and the flags, people still ventured into the area between the red flags. Twice life guards had to go out and bring people back in.

I stood there watching and could not help but see how this situation was like life. We have all been given a chance to ‘swim at the beach.’ We can run, build sand castles, bake our skin until it is leather, or swim. It is our choice. But we have to realize that with each of those choices is coupled with a consequence. Luckily, there are guidelines and mentors that help us make better decisions. These are the life guards and the flags.

However, sometimes we don’t understand the guidelines, we don’t listen or we just plain don’t care and we venture into the dangerous territory between the red flags. How far we get before we realize we need to stop, or need help, correlates directly with how hard it is to come back.

Now, the red flags could represent anything: being honest at work, the boundaries of our relationships, our personal integrity, or the habits we indulge. Thankfully, there are people willing to help us once we are ready to swim back to the safe area.

As an example, here is a personal story of a beach years ago. Years ago, in Hawaii during the Winter when the waves of the North Shore are the largest, my two younger brothers and I decided to venture out on body boards. It didn’t take long for our absentminded—seemingly innocent—horse play to take us to the dangerous currents ‘in between the flags.’

By the time we realized we were going farther and farther out to sea at a rapid pace we began to worry. I tried to not show my anxiety because as the older brother I felt responsible. Luckily, all three of us are strong swimmers thanks to Madre’s insistence when we were younger. We spent hours and hours at the pool in swimming lessons. We kicked and paddled until our arms burned. I knew we must be in trouble when I saw the life guards coming out after us. Thankfully we were alright and eventually swam in under the watch of the life guard. (The key is to swim diagonal until the current is weaker then head into shore. Swimming into the current directly only exhausts you faster.)

Being in between the red flags is not a place I want to be. Sadly, far too often, we don’t take heed to the warnings and the guidelines. The blue sky and sunny day distracts us to the dangers. I left the beach thankful for the boundaries marked by red flags and a renewed determination to stay well outside of them.

At one point I was standing with a young guy--high school age--and a man came out yelling at him to get in because of all the whistling. They had a bit of an argument. The man was mad, but I could tell it was the dad who was just worried that his child was getting too close to the "red flag area" like any parent is when they see their children making dangerous choices.

After I talked to the kid and he was very polite and friendly. I asked if the guy was his dad and he said "Yes, he is always like that." I didn't tell the kid that I thought the dad did kind of make a scene and embarrassed the high schooler, what I did say was, "At least you know you have someone who cares about you. Many kids don't have that." I expected him to harrumph and say something close to, "Whatever..."  But he didn't. He quietly agreed with me.

Later, I learned why. He told me that he and his brother were adopted by the couple out of Brazil when this boy was 8 years old. I stood there and realized that he DID understand what it was like to not have parents who cared enough to keep you out of the red zone--even if they were embarrassing and overboard with it. Then I said a prayer of thankfulness for this couple who took in two children that needed a family even when they were already 8 and 5. Such a cool day at the beach! I felt inspired.

Don't Touch my Passifier!

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