Knowing Where We Come From

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Posted on July 7, 2014 by LOCALFORAGER

Yesterday a Newport Beach lifeguard passed away while on duty. He went out on a rescue amidst heavy surf and exhausting conditions and never made it back. He wasn’t a boy; he was a man idolized for over a decade for his superior ocean lifesaving abilities. Today, the lifeguard community I worked alongside all those years ago has surfaced to pay respects. Not many words need to be said. A simple lifeguard badge posted on Facebook says it all. We all come from the same place, bonded by experience. Seeing the badge reminds me of the instructions my dad gave me on my sixteenth birthday when he gifted me a silver bracelet with waves etched on the side: don’t forget where you come from.

And, today I won’t.

We were sixteen years old when we opened the tower for the first time, set up the wide perimeter of orange cones, raised the flag and hung our buoys. We were children assuming roles of adulthood well beyond the scope of our natural maturity. We were invincible to the sun, the dehydration, the swells, the rocks, the rip currents. We pulled beach-goers in from the waves. Treated their wounds and calmed them down. We ran along the hot sand, charged into the cold water, and fearlessly dove past the surf. We worked alone but always felt the watchful eyes of the men and women lifeguards in nearby towers and jeeps. We were in charge of the ocean and all of its perceived dangers.

Except, we weren’t.

The older guards always told us it was the best job we would ever have. They were the ones who had worked in an office, who had seen the responsibilities and pressures of adulthood. I shook my head. I thought they were washed out, crazy for coming back summer after summer. So I moved on when college was over and joined the masses who spend summer days inside, daydreaming of big swells and adrenaline rushes.

And, they were right.

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July 8, 2014

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