Surviving the Deadly Rip

I dug up this piece of my life from an old  journal entry written on banana paper.

Sign with illustration of rip current
What to do when you’re caught in a rip.

I was snorkeling Cano Island on the Osa Pennisula of Costa Rica.

While admiring the colorful and bizarre shapes of the tropical fish swishing in the clear warm waters below, I periodically kept an eye on Chrissy, one of the other guests on our voyage because I noticed that she was swimming dangerously close to a powerful rip current.

As soon as I saw her approach it, I told her to come ashore, but when she tried to swim, the rip carried her out.

Luckily, the cove was littered with boulder like rocks that peeped up just above the waters. The current took her out to the last rock. I cautiously swam from rock to rock toward her. It was weird because the current managed to weave around the rocks; so even though the rocks offered respite; they did not adequately block the pull of the rip. It was unpleasant to touch the rocks because they  were bustling with tiny sea creatures and were slathered with an icky smelly slime.

By the time I got close to Chrissy; she was in a full panic. The rip gained power the closer it got to open sea.  It was like swimming through whitewater rapids, except the surface was calm. Never felt a rip with such force.

Chrissy was falling apart; she only had one hand on the rock, her eyes were flitting from rock to sea, and she was crying. As I swam toward her, something in me snapped: I yelled at her “Shut Up! Grab the rock with your other hand.” I don’t know why I felt the need to yell at her–I barely knew her. Just met her that day. Logically, it seemed the WRONG thing to do, but it just burst out. It was a good move because it momentarily snapped her out of her frenzy of fear.

She did as I told her. When I got to her rock, I suddenly understood why she had become so unhinged. The rip was ragingly strong; the island was far away, and when we looked out to sea all we saw was a huge void of unforgiving, deadly ocean waters. The hunger of that ominous expanse frightened both of us.

My presence calmed her down a bit, but I could tell that she was still scared. I was too, but I was also confident that we could get out of the rip as long as we used our heads.

“OK,” I said, “Look, I’m a surfer. This is nothing. We’re gonna be fine.”

I pointed to a rock close to shore and said, “I’m gonna swim to rock, you swim right behind me and ‘draft'”. She nodded ascent.

Before I launched from the rock, I said, “DO NOT TO GRAB ME WHILE I SWIM.” That turned out to be a mistake.

About five or so breast strokes diagonally through the current, what I did feel on my shoulder? Her freaking fingernails tearing into my skin.
I yelled, “God Damn It! Don’t grab me! Just swim!”

This time, the yelling made her sob. When we got to the target rock, I could see that was she was ready to fall into another panic. She said, “I just feel like we’re getting pulled out to sea.”

It pissed me off. First of all we closer to shore; second of all, the woman almost pulled me under when I was struggling just to stay above water.

I apologized for yelling at her. Then, I told her to put on her snorkel and breath through that. I don’t know why I told her that. It just sort of came out of my mouth–the same way the yelling did. I figured that the snorkel would at least keep her quiet. But it turned out to be a genius move because the snorkel, with its tiny air-hole, forced her concentrate on her breathing.  It calmed her down quite a bit. We swam from rock to rock, luckily the rip faded the closer we got to shore.

When we got to shore, she gave me quick hug, which I thought was weird, and then she said, “You’re bleeding. Did you scratch yourself on one of the rocks?”

“Yeah,” I said rubbing my shoulder, “a rock scratched me.” (A rock named Chrissy!)

But that wasn’t the worst part, when we made it to shore, our guide stomped over to us and said, “You guys shouldn’t have been out on those rocks!”

“I know,” I said, “the rip was crazy.”

“The rip?!” our guide said, “That’s the least of your worries. Those rocks a hunting ground for salt water crocks!”

Chrissy and I burst into hysterical laughter. I don’t know why. What our guide said wasn’t funny at all, but it felt great to laugh. Somehow pissing off our guide and realizing that were in so more danger than we could have ever imagined made me feel fantastic and it made Chrissy’s scratch hurt just a little less.

Unfamiliar Voices & Curious Ravens

English: A photo of a cup of coffee. Esperanto...
Image via Wikipedia

Who or what was making the strange voices upstairs? I heard them while I poured cold water into the coffee maker New Years Day 2012. It sounded like a gang of teenagers chatting. This was, of course, absurd because the only person upstairs was my wife and she was fast asleep. Nevertheless, the sound of the adolescent disembodied voices brought me half way up the staircase. They faded the closer I got to the top of the stairs.

I returned to the kitchen. Our electric coffee maker burbled as it streamed and drizzled my morning cups into the once empty glass pot. After the ‘maker spit out a few more tssssst! phooopht! tssssst!  phoooopht! and soft puffs of steam, I heard the voices again. Again I headed toward the stairs, but the baffling banter departed.

Soon, the lyrics to “Proud Mary” cranked through my brain. Over and over again: “Proud Mary Keep On…” Suddenly, the music in mind was silenced by a loud and clear inner voice:

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only,
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.

The lines from Poe’s The Raven instantly triggered a memory I had when I strolling barefoot on the beach with my girlfriend, Christina,  many years ago.

Image by Sergey Yeliseev via Flickr

It was at Manersa around mid day, nothing but slop and chop–unsurfable. Christina pointed to an abnormal black celestial shape flying towards us. It swam graciously through scattered wispy clouds in the blustery sky. I watched it closely as it approached, I soon discovered that it was…

A giant beetle? No, a raven? Yes, a large raven; in fact, I could hear it cawing. As it flew closer, I wondered why its beak and legs were colored bright green and also why it was flying so erratically. By the time it was close enough to see it clearly, I realized something bewildering about the bizarre bird: It was a plastic bag!

Christina and I both laughed. It tricked us both. Unfortunately, not all fantasies reveal their reality with such clarity. Sometimes the voices tell enticing stories and sometimes the ravens cast their wicked shadows on the floor.

It’s not always easy to distinguish the raven from the plastic. Zazen helps. I am much stronger and lucid when I breathe and it carries through to the rest of my life. In a very short time, the practice of Zazen has transformed me. The changes have NOT come as mystical flashes of insight or clouds parting as God beams of enlightenment blast open my spirit. That would be too easy.

Instead, Zen appears as the cold hard facts of my life. In the moments when I discover that the voices upstairs are the neighbor’s TV that the mysterious raven is just a plastic bag (or sack if you’re from the Northwest).

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My Brother’s Bloody Shirt

Tequila Shots
Image by kimsdinner via Flickr

New Years Nineteen Hundred and I Don’t Remember. I said “Goodnight” to my girlfriend and I headed home. While driving, I kept thinking about my younger brother. I remembered that he had just broken up with girlfriend a few days before the Big Ass New Year’s Bash. Something inside me told me to check on him. So, I flipped a u-turn and headed towards the scene of the party. Most of the guests’s cars were gone, but the lights were on even though the sun was almost up.

I opened the front door to a frightening scene. My younger brother sprawled on the floor with blood all over his t-shirt. His jeans were covered with vomit and he had no shoes. Two of his drunk-ass, dumb-ass “friends” had black sharpies and disposable razors. They were staggering towards him ready to start writing God Knows What all over him. I ripped them away from my helpless brother.

I heaved him up onto his bare-feet and slapped his face until he awoke. He could barely talk. I lifted his shirt and checked for stab wounds, but found nothing. I supported him as he stumbled to my car. I repeatedly asked him if he was OK, poking and checking to find out if he had any pain anywhere. He just gave me bewildered gazes and kept saying, “I’m fine, I’m fine…” Other than being wasted drunk while wearing a blood spattered shirt, he didn’t show signs of injury or pain.

When I got him home, I could see that he was OK–no signs of blood loss or anything else sinister. I told him to shower and sent him off to bed.

That afternoon, I asked him about the shirt.

“How did it get the blood on it?”

He burst into a fit of laughter. “Dude, ” he said through tears and giggles, “Never mix tequila with Cherry Koolaid” (I was thinking more along the lines of NEVER mix my younger brother with tequila.)

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