Around 20 years ago, before kids, I almost drowned in a rip current off the Gulf coast. I don’t remember exactly where we were, it may have been Inlet or Grayton beach in Florida, but it was during one of our many couples’ vacations with my high school friends. It was in the morning, and I remember being tired and run-down from too much fun the previous night. I went for a swim to freshen up and found myself being pulled repeatedly into the uncommonly large waves that were rolling just past the sand bar. I was a strong swimmer then and was unafraid to dive into the waves to pop out the other side and repeat over and over, feeling a slight adrenaline rush as I exerted my strength against nature. But this time it got the better of me, as I recall being struck by fear as I was pulled into the next wave having just barely caught my breath.
I did the obvious thing, which was to swim to shore, but, as we’ve probably all heard, this only exhausted me more quickly as the current kept me in its grasp. Already tired, I realized I only had a few more waves left before the water held me under. I saw my friend, Nilesh, directly in front of me on the shore, walking up the beach, intently involved in some sport. I screamed out to him for help, but he didn’t hear a thing and kept walking. Fortunately, a voice from inside told me to “swim parallel to shore!” and so I did. Thankfully, I am here to attest that the method works. I made it to safety and collapsed into a chair to recover. I told my friends what had happened, and, laughingly, I remember it not being nearly as scary to them as it was to me. The fun was not interrupted. I suspect Nilesh doesn’t even remember this event.
I tell you this story because I’m really unsure about continuing to write about my health journey. It made sense when I was away from home getting surgery in Houston, but now, over a year and half later, it’s not as if there needs to be a crowd closely watching my efforts to swim, so to speak, as I go through the routine of treatment and tests, treatment and tests; these wouldn’t appear to be big waves. From my vantage point within them, though, I sometimes feel I’m being overwhelmed by the pounding my body is taking from the many gallons of drugs that have been pumped into my body. But I know that life goes on for those in the comfort of the sand, and the trials go on for those who find themselves in the surf. I’ve had plenty of experience with both, but, honestly, we’re all caught in a riptide of circumstances at some point in life. Some swim back to safety, some are caught in the roll, some sadly succumb. Life’s a beach, right?
So, I ask myself, “what makes you so special that you should publicize your personal struggles?” Not finding any convincing answer, I shy away. But then I remember the prayers of the people that uphold us. And the positive thoughts, though if there is no God, I’m not sure there’s power in these or the prayers, and if there is, then maybe they are heard by our Creator the same. Regardless, if I stop writing, I stop getting the prayers. I may as well be at home, yelling from the waves with no one to hear me or to offer any help. And if we stop sharing our lives, then it’s people politely spaced in the water and struggling alone as far as the eye can see. No wonder depression is on the rise.
Speaking of positive thoughts, a friend of mine referred to me recently as a “glass half-full guy.” Yep, I’m sure I can convince people of that in person, but either I’m faking that sometimes (true), I’m treasuring the moment (also true), or I’m manifesting the “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:4-7 and only God knows if this is true). If you were to ask my wife, though, if I’m a “glass half-full guy,” I think you’d get a rather nuanced answer: “weeellllllll….”
See, some days are good, some days are bad. Some days the glass is half-full, some days not so much. If we’re picturing a drinking glass for this image, it’s at least half-empty of usefulness. But don’t fear dear reader, an hourglass rests on a table in my bedroom, and its distinct, infinity-like shape strikes me whenever I see it. To me, it conveys life and how we view it much more effectively. Turn one over and tell me, glass half-full or half-empty? Or at least one more than the other? It depends on the pouring of the sand, and it is constantly changing.
I once wrote that I endeavored to “stay eternal.” This was in response to my struggle to embrace the oft-heard mantra of “staying positive.” But I recognize that positivity conveys an approach to life that most can picture, while staying eternal is probably only understood by my fellow followers of Christ. The hourglass image helps, though. If our time here on earth is temporal, then it can be thought of as a single turn of the hourglass, and the top globe is all we get. Though we don’t know the time of our deaths, we know at least our expectancy, and thus can predict when the sand is at least half-spent. At some point we have to admit that the life-side is closer to empty or recognize that the death-side is filling fast; perhaps this is when the mid-life crisis occurs, when dad gets a little red convertible to tool around town (me). Regardless, there’s no going back. Some will “stay positive” and attempt to fill their buckets with experiences, while others might become bitter and hard and toil. Either way, the sand is like a rip current sucking life away.
Is that a half-empty thing to write?
This is a worldly view, though. I like to think that life is eternal and the hourglass only represents our time in these bodies. But to think like this we need hope. And for that, I ask you to picture another hourglass, a Christian’s view of mercy. This is the hourglass that I fixate on, the one that is sometimes half-full, sometimes half-empty, sometimes about exhausted. But this hourglass doesn’t get a mere single turn like the one representing our lives. There’s a promise found in our dusty Bibles that every morning God’s mercies are renewed, that God’s love never ceases (Lamentations 3:22-23). So, I picture this hourglass turned every morning, the top filled with God’s mercy towards me. This, too, is a worldly view, though, picturing God’s mercy pouring from one glass to another, from hope to gloom (or cynicism), from belief to unbelief (or cynicism), from life to death (or cynicism). God’s mercy doesn’t ebb and flow. But still. I imagine it. Every morning. New mercies. A new turn. Glass full. I don’t have to be so hard on myself for how I picture it from there.
Knowing that the Gulf of Mexico isn’t exactly a mecca for surfing, it must have been a storm that had generated the large waves in which I almost lost my life many years ago. But, if experience from the many subsequent vacations to the ocean have any bearing, I imagine that the water the following morning was green-flag calm. That’s the way it always is. This idea of “new morning mercies” isn’t something that man made up, after all.
I began this post at 5:30 am with a fresh hope. Around 7, the kids got up and broke into my peaceful setting by the Christmas tree and the fire. It’s now after 8 and I’m feeling the ache. The sand is a-pouring. I don’t know what the day holds, but I thank God for his mercy to me. If that is to be apportioned in sand, I’m going to need more than an hourglass-full; I may need a whole beach.