Three years ago, on the 30th of July, I witnessed something that changed my relationship to swimming in the ocean forever. My sister, my 9-year old daughter, her cousin and others saw it too. We saw it all.
My daughter and her cousins are 4th generation summer Cape Codders. The beach we have all grown up on is Ballston Beach in Truro. It is an ocean beach out on the tip of the Cape with dramatic dunes and sweeping vistas. Even in the heart of summer, if you walk down the beach you can find solitude. I've always considered this my truth serum beach...in her presence all is revealed.
On this particular July afternoon, we had set up in the thick of things…too many children and umbrellas to trek to solitude. My sister and I were standing chatting while staring out at the beautiful Atlantic. Our daughters nearby. I noticed a middle-aged man and his teenage son head into the water with their boogie boards. They started to swim out past the break into darker water.
I turned to my sister and said, “Those guys are on their own out there.” What I meant was that there had been hundreds of seals in these shallow waters lately and with seals come sharks. As soon as the words left my mouth, I saw a black dorsal fin cut up between the swimmers. There was a huge smacking splash and the father was suddenly tugged underwater by an invisible beast.
It was one of those moments when everything just goes into slow motion and you ask yourself, “Did I just see that?” More importantly then, “Did the kids just see that???” Within horrific seconds the man popped up to the surface again. He and his terrified son started to swim to shore. They were screaming, kicking and frantically propelling themselves with a powerful adrenaline surge. Finally, when they got to the water’s edge, I ran down with others to help. I told the kids, in no uncertain terms, that they were not allowed to come down. Before we pulled him out of the cold water, the man said that he had been bitten pretty badly. Pulling him out revealed that his lower legs had been shredded. He had been attacked by a great white.
People were making tourniquets with boogie board straps and wrapping his legs in beach towels. The ambulance took forever to arrive. Finally he was rescued and taken to Boston for emergency care. Several weeks later, I heard he was back on Ballston Beach. He didn’t lose his legs and over time I am sure he was back in the water. What really saved him was that the shark was looking for fatty seal meat, not human flesh. It took all of us some time to get back in the water.
After the beach that day, my daughter was clearly upset, as we all were. How do you process something like this as a 9 year-old? I suggested she draw a picture showing what she saw in her summer journal. The BLOG image I’ve posted of her drawn memory of that experience contains everything. Everything. I have a copy of it hanging on my studio wall because it reminds me about the power of drawing from a potent memory.
Until next time, try and draw from a memory. It might be what happened last week or something you remember from childhood. Drawing our memories and dreams can be a cathartic way to process our lives. Don’t get caught up in the quality of the drawing…just put down what rises to the surface. CREATE.
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