My son has never been confident in his abilities, even less in the water. At the beach, he runs into the waves and back out again, laughing with the innocence of his nearly five years. But if I try to take him a little deeper, the fear rises in his eyes and he runs. So, it was a big step for him to climb down the rickety ladder off the side of the dock. He looked past the aging wood, splintered over time and sagging to one side. He stepped past barnacles, his flip-flops barely hanging onto his feet. He had just settled into the smooth water, tentative and fearful, when the movement began.
Just a little ripple at first, the water began to shift under him. Then the shifting turned into full waves as the boat that had created the wake passed further by. It was just a small boat, a couple people skiing on this sunny afternoon in the intercoastal waterway.
The sound of their laughter drifted over to us at the dock about the same time the ripple did. They passed by without knowing that in their wake a frightened child was reaching for the ladder, frantically calling for his mommy. I helped him scurry back up the ladder and into my arms after only a moment in the water. He was done.
I’ve thought back on that moment many times in the weeks since lazy summer ended and our lives have launched into the momentum and hurry of fall. I keep remembering when I see the effects our lives are having on others, the way the actions of those around me ripple into my own life.
There are exciting dreams ahead for our family but I weigh my words each time they leave my mouth. Before I talk to my family about our coming move, I think about the grief they are feeling. I worry what my words stir up in their hearts. Should I talk about it? Should I stay silent? What will hurt them more? I choke on my words because I’m not sure.
The mother of my daughter’s best friend just told me this week that she has repeatedly caught her little girl crying in the car. She said during those quiet moments of riding she can’t help but think about her best friend moving across the world and it moved her to tears. I have never been so aware of the wake my actions are leaving behind. There are many people caught up in the tide created by the trajectory of my life. We don’t live in a vacuum. We don’t leave in a vacuum. We leave behind loved ones, holes that can’t be filled, and hurt. I grieve every day the way God is creating joy and pain at the same time in the lives that touch our own.
All week I felt like I was back out in those murky Atlantic waters, rising and falling with the tide. My week was filled with the highs and lows of this life in transition. My birthday fell mid-week in a busy time of back to school and Labor Day weekend looming ahead. I had lunch with a couple friends and a lovely dinner with my family. There were joys to be found but I still felt low. Most of my co-workers passed in the hall without a comment or a quick “Oh yeah, happy birthday!”
Just a few weeks before they celebrated another co-worker’s birthday at a nearby restaurant. I waited for the email to come inviting others to my celebration, knowing this would be the last birthday I would spend in the States for at least a couple years. None came. I smiled through the pain when one friend took me to lunch, pretended it didn’t bother me that everyone else was too busy to care. I reminded myself how busy I am, how many “Happy Birthdays” I haven’t said in the past year. How many people’s feelings have I hurt with my busyness? It still stung to be on the other side of the wake, to be caught up in the tides that are rushing so quickly there is no time for relationship sometimes. I fell to sleep early on my birthday, exhausted from emotion, from riding the rolling waves all day. I was done.
Before I drifted off, I asked God to make me more aware of those around me, of their needs and their hurts. I get so busy that I just don’t think about the effect I have on others. I don’t see. I am like those boaters—riding along in my life, caught up in what I have going on. I forget so easily that there are others on the periphery of my life. What I do and say—or am too busy to do or say—can rock their world. It can encourage and uplift them. Or it can send them running back to safety, wounded.
My son got back in the water that day. With his mommy speaking encouraging words and a friend’s arms reaching out for him, he found a safe space to enter the water. We laughed when the waves came, made a game out of riding them. He only stayed in for a few minutes and then came running back to my waiting arms, shivering from the cold. He learned a lesson that day about perseverance. I learned about paying attention, about the effect my actions have on others. I am still learning…