Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Did I ever tell the story of being overwhelmed at sea.

The story is not terribly dramatic. The family, Robin and I with Hannah and Will, were vacationing in Cinque Terre, Italy. We were staying in Monterosso. The coast line is rocky and rugged, and aside from a few vineyards on the steep hills, the main industry is catering to the thousands of tourists who flock to the coast to get away from the heat of the interior and the crowded cities.

The area is called Cinque Terre because of the five villages spaced at intervals of a few miles along the coastline. Today, the villages are connected by a railroad carved through the mountains, but once it wa just a steep and winding path along the coast. Still, there is no road to connect the towns. One either walks the path, takes the train, or goes by boat.

I decided to swim from Monterossa to Vernazza, the next village, maybe a distance of a mile or so. I wasn't rested - we had arrived just the day before - still, I was off on a swim down the coast line. A third of the way there, I was out of the harbor and away form any houses or help. The path on the hillside had wound its way up the hill so that I was on my own. Never before have I had a leg cramp while swimming. But, all of the sudden my left calf cramped. The feeling is awful. There is an intense pain that grabs you, like a shark grabbing a hold of your leg. I stop swimming and try to massage the calf muscle with my arms. I am kept afloat with my remaining right leg. All of the sudden the right calf muscle chooses to cramp and there I am at sea 250 feet from the shore and overwhelmed with pain.

What do you do when you are overwhelmed? What do you do when the situation is something you can't handle? In somewhat of a surreal sensation, I had a fleeting thought that this was it and said my goodbyes to my family - kind of hard to do when you are flailing about in pain. Next, I assessed the situation, realized that I could not massage two legs at the same time and hope to remain afloat. So, I thought back to those life saving classes my parents made me take when I was twelve. Turn over, arch your back, and try to remain calm. Eventually, the cramps subsided and I was able, by the slow movement of my arms and without my legs, to make my way to shore.

Maybe, I am over dramatizing the sense of being overwhelmed at sea. The point is that sometimes we can't physically overcome an obstacle. Instead, it takes a calm appreciation of the situation. Time and patience will present a clearer picture of the challenges we face. And then, and only then, can we make our way to a safe harbor.

Photo Rolf Hickerson photography.


Hannah said...

I don't know if you remember this but the first time we went to Europe with Randy you also went for a swim in Rimini. It had been over two hours and you weren't back. I was sure you were "swimming with the fishes" as the mobsters would say. Thankfully you returned. I think it was your way of getting back at me for worrying you with my late nights out.

yearn to learn said...

I just floated out there beyond harbor, bobbing on the waves like a cork, taking it all in. It was wonderful.