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Rip currents: learning the lessons

obormottel Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Recently, a number of deaths by drowning related to rip currents have hit the headlines both in Israel and in the United States. I dedicate this article to those who lost their lives in this tragic way. May their souls be elevated.

Yesterday I received an email with links to information regarding rip currents including instructions on how to avoid drowning if pulled, God forbid, into a rip current. It came just as I was experiencing one of my ‘what am I doing with my life?’ days. You know those days when you can’t seem to motivate yourself to do anything? “I’m wasting my time. I have things to do…just can’t seem to get moving. It’s the heat,” I tell myself. “Every minute counts and you’re wasting a lot of them!” I accuse myself.

I guess the rip current links served to help me ‘waste’ some more time. I read every article and watched every video. It wasn’t until later on that I realized how much I had to learn about life from the information offered in these links.

Although I grew up along the shores of Rockaway Beach in New York, the term ‘rip current’ is a new one to me. In popular usage, an undertow is often confused with a rip current. While an undertow occurs everywhere under the shore-approaching waves, rip currents are strong and localized narrow currents occurring between those shore approaching waves.

I remember one day, my friend Alison and I got pulled out suddenly when the water appeared to be pretty calm. We almost drowned. Now I realize that ‘pull’ was no undertow but rather a rip current.

People can drown in a rip current for the simple reason that they naturally struggle to get back to shore when they realize they’re being drawn forcefully to the ‘deep’. This is a big mistake because the current is so strong that even an Olympic swimmer might have trouble getting back to shore that way. Too much energy is expended in the effort, people tire easily and that’s how they drown God forbid.

So what to do?

  1. Learn to identify rip currents from the shore – present in places of gaps with no waves. The water in a rip current will appear darker because it is deeper due to the sand bars on either side.
  2. If there are signs or flags warning people not to enter the water at these locations – heed the warning. Needless to say, ONLY enter the water when a life-guard is present on the beach.
  3. If caught in a rip current DO NOT FIGHT THE CURRENT.
  4. If you are a good swimmer, find the white foam of the waves and swim parallel to the shore toward the waves. Once you reach the wave area, either ride a wave or swim to shore.
  5. Another option is to allow the current to take you out to sea. There is no reason to panic. The currents only go out about 70 yards. Once you get pulled beyond the forceful current you can safely and easily swim to the right or left in order to reach an area which brings waves back to shore.
  6. If you don’t feel able to do either of the above, face the shore and raise one arm to call for help.

While I was lounging in my bed yesterday, getting down on myself for doing ‘nothing’ with my life, it occurred to me that I could just accept this as a temporary stage and wait it out. I realized that there are rip currents in life as well as in the ocean. We often used the allegory of the waves approaching the shore and returning to sea to represent life’s ups and downs. So then what is a rip current? Well, I figure a rip current comes unexpectedly. It is more forceful than a wave; it doesn’t knock us down, it actually pulls us out to the deep water.

I decided that yesterday I was in a rip current of life. And the more I struggled with my reality, the more tired and fatigued I became. Remember rule no. 3 – Do not fight the current.

I could choose to swim parallel to the shore toward the foam (more familiar ground), I could just let it pull me out until I’m past the danger zone and make my way back to shore, or I can ask for help.

I decided to swim parallel to the shore, ie. I began doing little, yet important things from my bed – like phone my aunt in Florida. At the end of the day I would have a short yet meaningful list of things accomplished even in my lethargic state. That in itself brings me to stand on solid ground. I wasn’t so useless after all.

The thought of letting myself go and get pulled deeper was compelling yet it takes a lot of faith. We have to know where we’re holding. And I didn’t feel so bad off that I needed to call someone for help. Yet, sometimes that’s exactly what we need – a friend who cares.

That is why Rebbe Nachman of Breslev teaches us to identify the rip currents of life (as well as the waves) and encourages us to become adept at managing our ups and downs. They will come. And we need to maintain a constant conversation with Hashem. If we clam up when we most need to connect, we’ll find ourselves struggling against the current in the waters of self-deprecation and self-imposed distance from the only ONE Who can help us.

That was the lesson I learned yesterday while ‘wasting’ my time. Apparently,

It wasn’t such a waste of time after all. If I’d had a totally productive day, I may never have read those articles and certainly would never have connected the information to life lessons.

May we ride the waves and manage the currents of life with emunah,