It isn’t a vivid memory, but I do remember the time I was caught in a rip tide.
Your guess is as good as mine as how old I was. But I can remember following my sister out into the waves. I was loath to go in, I’ve always hated the ocean even before this incident, but I would pretty much follow my sister anywhere (a trait that many younger sisters share). I can recall trying to jump the waves (and I can remember being short enough that this was a difficult task). I know that my sister was not swimming straight out, but parallel to the shore. She was getting more and more distant, and I was trying to catch up. But I couldn’t. It wasn’t more noteworthy than that. I simply wanted to move, but I couldn’t. And the next thing I knew a lifeguard was swimming out to me, catching me around the waist and striding toward the shore. How was I supposed to know that if I had kept going I would have had to stop? I think, when I got to shore, I started to cry because the reality of the situation hit my young brain. But it was very, very possible that I was just being dramatic and looking for sympathy over my unfortunate experience.
Although I was very far from drowning, I was closer to it than I had ever been before or after. For the rest of my life, I have stayed away from the ocean, not from any real fear, just from a general dislike (and it has always been mutual. No, the ocean does not like me. It knows.). But for everything I find horrifying about the ocean, (that terrible moment when something brushes your leg) I’m truly not afraid of rip tides anymore. I’ve been there, brushed that experience like a jellyfish washing past in those same waves with the same amount of pain and distress, and moved on.
Which is why everyone needs to have a drowning, or near-drowning, experience in their lives. And drowning is important; no near-death experience will do. When you are struggling against water, there is something so very debilitating. Perhaps it is the keen knowledge that you are absolutely out of your element, and there is nothing you can do. Someone has to come and help you. Of course, I was too young to cling to my mortality for every moment after, but the memory remains with me still.
Now, don’t go throwing yourself into bodies of water just to have a stronger constitution and better outlook on life. This concept also applies metaphorically. If you have never really “drowned,” if you’ve never been up the creek without a paddle, how do you know what you are made of? How do you know whether you will sink or swim? How do you know you can’t when you’ve never tried? We should all embrace the chaos as much as possible for this exact reason.
In the end, I’ll be alright if I am never at the mercy of the ocean again. But if I am, the ocean should know I’m a bit bigger and a little harder to pick on. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? Almost. More like, what doesn’t kill you makes you a stronger swimmer.