Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Sneaker Waves

Just like the calm periods of our lives,
a peaceful sea can belie threats
and dangers that await us.

While visiting the coastal town of Yachats, Oregon, this past summer, I took an afternoon stroll along a bluff. On that walk, the bright sun warmed my face, and the wind blew just enough to rustle the fronds of sea grasses. To the west, the Pacific Ocean undulated in gentle swells and sent up delicate sprays of foam when it met with the rocks below. All the elements that day combined to produce feelings of peace and gratitude and safety. Then I came upon a plaque that cautioned me to beware the sneaker waves.

People who live along the west coast are most likely familiar with the term sneaker wave—a rogue wave which appears out of nowhere and strikes with great force. If you’re combing the beach, the wave can steal the sand right from under your feet. If you’re standing on a massive rock, observing sea life in a tide pool, it can attack and sweep you out to sea in the blink of an eye. Particularly alarming, these waves come at times when least expected, at times when the sea—at her charming best—lulls you into a blissful sense of security.

The plaque I happened on that day was a memorial to two young victims of sneaker waves and a caution of the perils they present. After I read it, I continued on my walk, my thoughts occupied with the sneaker waves of life—those events that shake our emotional foundations or knock us from them with devastating force. Events such as the death of a beloved partner or child, the diagnosis of a disease for which there is no cure, a divorce that leaves one shattered. Events that come with no sign or warning and often in the happiest, calmest periods of life.

Since that day, I’ve revisited the idea of sneaker waves from time to time and considered what I might say about them in a post. The death of a dear friend this past week prompted me to finally put words to my thoughts.

Patsy was really more family than friend. She was my daughter’s mother-in-law, my son-in-law’s mother, my grandsons’ “Mamaw.” I didn’t see her often, as she lived in a different state, but I always felt a strong connection to her because of our mutual love for the people in our lives.  I couldn’t have asked for a finer person to share my daughter with or a more devoted grandmother for my grandchildren. I will deeply miss “co-grandparenting” with her. My heart grieves for all the family members and friends who will miss her gentle and caring spirit.

Almost two years ago, Patsy was hit by a sneaker wave—a diagnosis of cancer. While this news no doubt shook her world, it didn’t defeat her. She battled the disease with faith and courage. Then a few weeks ago, a second wave hit. Her chemo wasn’t working. The doctors were out of ideas.

The plaque I encountered on my walk last summer offers not only warnings but also suggestions. Among them: Respect the immense power of the ocean. An unwavering Christian whose faith radiated in all that she did, Patsy knew another “immense Power” and drew on it throughout her life. Our time on Earth can be slippery and tenuous, but the other Power that Patsy knew offers a rock solid footing. So while the final sneaker wave Patsy encountered was frightening and sad, it wasn’t devastating. She faced it with the hope and assurance of a Firm Foundation.


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