Volcanopalooza 2016: Sharing Bravery in the New Year

I was lucky to be swimming in the Pacific Ocean on New Year’s Eve and again on New Year’s Day. To me, the water was a warm invitation to play. Once I reached the beach, I could only heed the siren’s call of the ocean to enter the salty water, be bashed about by the pulsating white walls of water, and laugh when I miscalculated my jump and received a full nasal filling splash to the face. Oh the joy of salt water that’s said to cure most things either through sweat, tears or plunges into the sea.

We’d received a safety briefing about the beach. At lower tide levels, sting rays might be found lying on the sea floor, partially buried by the sand, making their presence hard to detect. Sting rays, which when swimming look like birds in flight, possess one weapon of defense. It is a barbed tail with a potent venom. When frightened, sting rays swing their tails hoping to hit any potential predator with their stinging tail. From what I’ve heard, going through a sting ray sting is not a life experience that one ever wishes for. Emergency treatment involves immersing the sting into hot water as quickly as possible for heat denatures the venom. That, and pain meds and watching for any allergic reactions…

The only way to avoid being stung by a sting ray is to stay out of the water. Some folks use that risk management strategy but miss out on the joys of swimming in a warm, wave-filled sea. A second strategy involves shuffling your feet rather than stepping as per usual. By shuffling your feet, you give any sting rays in the vicinity the chance to vacate before you step upon them (accidentally, of course) and risk a tail swipe/sting. The thought of a sting ray sting gave me slight pause but I wasn’t willing to forego a swim, so I shuffled happily into the water knowing I was willing to exchange the slight chance of a sting for all the benefits of playing in the waves.

Other teammates were electing to walk along the water’s edge. I could see them looking at the water with a bit of longing in their eyes. They waded a bit deeper but were unwilling to truly get wet. I wandered over and invited them to come play. I cajoled. I encouraged. I tried to entice. I shared my bravery by heading confidently back into the water. Slowly, they took tentative steps towards the deeper water. The siren began to sing. The waves called. They shuffled their feet. They came, they jumped, they swam. With smiles and laughs, we shared the water and waves. No one got stung.

In that moment of inviting the others to come swim, I came to see that bravery can be shared. That courage can be lent. That sometimes, all we need is an invitation and a confident friend, to help us cross the threshold to a new experience or new way of being. Our bravery and courage ebb and flow like tides on the beach. As a new year dawns, let’s share our bravery. Let’s lend confidence. Let’s support each other in taking small steps that are hard and big steps that might be even harder. Let’s play in, with, and through salt water in all of its forms. Let’s climb big hills and visit deep valleys. Let’s go together even though there is some terrain we must traverse alone. Let’s go with support, care, and compassion for ourselves and for others especially with courage ebbs low and the risks are huge. Let’s never go to the summit alone but take others along by inviting them on their own summits, by sharing our summits and our valleys, and by sharing bravery and courage along the way.

Happy swimming in 2016.

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