As I was opening pandora's box, tears silently trickled down my check, burning my face. My hands tenderly felt the edge of the box, mindfully paying close attention to the weathered hinge that had come loose. Placed on the inside of the lid, a photo of my dad was roughly cut to fit the tiny space where it had been placed, as a reminder of his presence in everything. My foggy eyes peered inside at all the letters and treasures from my early childhood.
I’m sitting on a picnic blanket, feeling the warm sun try to comfort me while I’m surrounded by grieving adults who are gathered together to scatter my father’s ashes into the ocean. I played with my plush toy flower, twisting the stem round and round itself. I had received several gifts that day from different friends and family. We had all gathered in a clearing at the top of a trail looking over his favorite surf spot. His childhood best friend was paddling out to disperse his ashes in his new home in the sea.
With each twist of the flower, new emotions surfaced. Overwhelming sadness. Confusion. Uncertainty. In front of me were childrens books explaining that death is a part of life. Death was exposed to me very early on, but my three year-old mind just knew that my Daddy was gone and in a place called Heaven.
I’m sitting in biology class, hearing the teacher lecture about how the heart works while I try not to cry. My past year of biology was surprisingly emotional. I usually loved learning about biology and I had done well up until the point we had to learn about the heart. We learned about what happens during a heart attack and the causes of heart problems. As we watched a video on the stages of a heart attack, tears started to uncontrollably stream down my face. That night, I needed to get answers from my mom. Why? I needed to understand why it seemed like ninety-nine percent of the time there was a reason why a heart stops working.
One in a million is what my mom told me. What does that even mean? For me it was my Daddy. Sitting on my bed curled up in a quilt made of his clothes, my mom explained what she knew. He was mountain biking and his heart just stopped. Yes, logically that shouldn’t have happened. My Daddy was like a pro athlete: mountain biker, went to college on a cross country scholarship and most importantly to me, an amazing surfer.
And yet his heart just stopped.
He was mountain biking in a state park and he collapsed. The authorities mandated that he had to have a full biopsy done. My mom took this information to all types of doctors. One told her that if he had gone to the doctor that morning, they wouldn’t have found anything. Another said the chances of this happening to a man in top physical condition in his early 30’s, was 1 in a million. There was no defined understanding of what truly happened.
I’m paddling out, feeling the water brush past me while I head out to to my favorite surf break. One stroke, two stroke and my board glides across the dark water. My eyes watch the horizon, mesmerized at how the thick marine layer fog blends into the water. Pushing up over each wave until I am resting in the line up. My hand slowly takes in the energy of the water a centimeter below the surface. I feel my Dad right there beside me, guiding me along as salt, seaweed and a hint of surf wax fill my nose.
My mom occasionally reminds me how much I’m like my dad. Pool, ocean, even in the bathtub, I just want to be in the water no matter what. She grew up in Colorado and will not get in the ocean if the water is colder than 75 degrees, but I am her fish. I learned how to surf on my own, teaching myself the rules of the line up and how to walk the board.
My love for the ocean stems out from just being in the surf and alongside his spirit. I want to help protect the oceans different eco systems. Surfing is my most healing therapy. No matter how I am feeling going into the water, I come out totally stoked with a cheesy grin. I’ve always been fascinated with the ocean and what lies underneath the surf. The ocean is such a sacred place for me, which is why I want to do everything in my power to help preserve and protect what I love so deeply.
My dad was the first person to bring me to the water and I have been drawn to it ever since. This passion we share, has driven me to pursue a career in marine biology at the University of Hawaii. This opportunity will not only help educate myself on something I love, but I can also find the next steps on how to protect it. The ocean has a way of connecting me: to the past with my dad, as my present source of therapy and in my future of preserving it.
A quote from my favorite movie, Chasing Mavericks, has touched me to my core and I would like to share it with you. “We all come from the sea, but we are not all OF the sea. Those of us who are, we children of the tides, must return to it again and again, until the day we don’t come back, leaving behind only that which was touched along the way.”