When I was a child, say about 6 years old, my dad took the whole family to the beach – Bar beach if I remember correctly. Don’t worry; it really was a proper nice looking beach in those days, not the ecological mess that it has become now. But I digress.
We went to the beach; I think to celebrate my uncle’s forthcoming wedding or something like that. Anyway, so we’re in those raffia-built tents, and I’m joyfully chomping away on fried rice and fried meat, sipping on Fanta, and feeling absolutely cool with myself when my uncle goes:
“Onoms, hurry up and finish eating so we can go and swim.”
I stop. Look at my uncle, then look towards the sea, and then I continue eating. Maybe I didn’t hear him well the first time.
“Did you hear me? Eat quickly, so we can go and swim.”
The delicious bits of fried meat turn to rocks in my mouth, so I chase them down with Fanta.
“What is wrong with this man?” I wonder silently to my 6 year-old self. Perhaps no one has told him that even though I love coming to the beach, I HATE getting wet. The farthest I ever go is letting the water touch my feet, before quickly scampering back to the tent to enjoy more food and juicy adult conversation. That has ALWAYS been my modus operandi, why does he want to change it now?
“Uncle I can’t swim” I mumble quietly, hoping to God that my father doesn’t hear. You see, it’s half-way between a truth, and a lie, because I’ve conveniently forgotten the weekend swimming lessons I’m currently having at Ikoyi club. But HE doesn’t need to know that.
“Don’t worry, I’ll teach you” he chimes in happily.
My mum is a few feet away, now listening with rapt concentration, so I can’t sigh. I can’t frown. And being a well-brought up child who is afraid of my mum’s legendary ‘Igbaju” (Yoruba mother anyone?), I definitely CANNOT show any sign of displeasure. So I smile painfully and murmur a meek “Okay.”
An hour later, when my food has digested, my uncle leads me out to the sea. I’m more irritated than afraid that he has disrupted by plan for the perfect beach day, and away from my mother, I now have the confidence to plaster a huge scowl on my face. If my uncle notices, he blissfully ignores it and keeps giving me tips on how to swim at sea. *insert rolling-eye smiley*
Soon, I’m almost stomach-deep in salty water with my uncle who seems to be having a blast. I’m floating and just barely giving the whole process any effort at all, when suddenly, a huge wave comes and I find myself totally submerged. This thing happens in a split second, and the next thing I know, I’m gasping for air, spluttering and trying to keep my head above water.
My uncle. My dear uncle is laughing. Like he’s almost clapping sef.
“That was great, wasn’t it? I like the big waves!”
I’m speechless. Here I am, soaking wet, sand in my hair and all over my body, my nose runny, and my eyes stinging from the abundance of salt water, and this man is here laughing? What is funny?
With all the righteous indignation my 6 year-old voice can muster, I say very calmly:
“Uncle I want to go back, I’m tired.”
And that’s when it gets real.
“We’ll go back soon. Just after we wait for another big wave; I want to show you how to jump into one.”
At this point, I’m wondering why my parents decided to let me go with this lunatic man, because now, I’m convinced, he wants to kill me.
“Jump inside the wave ke?” Can he not see what the last wave did to me?
But it’s hopeless. So teeth chattering, looking like a drowned cat, I wait.
Soon enough, we see the ‘big wave’ approaching.
“Make sure your feet are firm on the ground, and when it’s almost close to you, spread your arms wide, and jump right in.”
All of these instructions come at me rapidly in less than maybe 30 seconds, so I really just have time to obey…or disobey. I do the former.
The wave is huge, massive in fact, and I’m a little scared, but very excited. So I close my eyes, spread my arms and jump/dive right in. When I open my eyes, the wave has passed and I’m still standing; even if a little wobbly, but I’m there. My uncle, he’s laughing at my stunned expression of wonder.
“You liked it ba? I knew you would! The first time is always the best.”
Eyes sparkling, I nod in silence. I’m too awestruck. I feel powerful, wise and confident all at once.
“Can we do it again?”
He laughs loudly again.
“Maybe some other time, we need to go back.”
As we head back to the tent, I feel like I’ve experienced something magical, exhilarating and new.
24 years later, and counting, there have been countless moments in my life where I have referred back to the lessons of that particular experience.
Life will test, stretch and stress you. While we are doing the things we are used to doing normally in life, something, or someone will interrupt us. It may be something we are unused or unwilling to do. It might bring moments of irritation, discomfort, confusion, and even fear, but we should embrace those new experiences anyway. Because when you are brave enough to conquer fear and do something new, the universe opens up and lets you experience what feels like magic.
But best of all, you come away from it feeling wiser, more knowledgeable and with the added benefit of gaining insight.
Life is a beach; take a chance on the biggest wave.
Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Serge Bertasius