I was standing in the sea one day last week. The sky was dull. Low cloud hid the hills beyond the shore. The water was the colour of battleships, and turbulent, too. Roiling, in fact, was the word that came to me. I stood a while longer pondering if this was in fact a real word or one I had made up combining ‘rough’ and ‘boiling’, both of which applied. Not boiling as in temperature – it was North Devon, after all – but in the way the sea was moving about.
When I came out of this reverie, I found myself deeper in the water than I’d realised and being pulled further out. It was a struggle to move towards the beach. With horror, I saw that the same thing was happening to my twelve year old. I couldn’t reach her. My husband was struggling, too, but somehow he managed to get to her. They were at least together and had their body boards to keep them afloat.
It was a rip tide and we were thankfully soon out of it, but it was one of those moments where you go from happy family outing – everyone disengaged from the etherworld, detached from devices, engaged with nature, wholesome activity and each other, communicating with smiles rather than eye rolls – to a moment where you see the possibility of life careering off in a very different direction. Such a feeling of powerlessness.
I’m well aware that the two minutes or less of fear felt by my family is but a tiny teardrop in the vast oceans of terror out there at the moment. It seems like the whole world is roiling. Swirling, turbulent. Everywhere there is war, terror, abuse of children; protectors, either not protecting the vulnerable, or knee-jerking into overdrive; politicians, who usually talk a lot, let’s face it, saying very little about anything.
Back home, we researched rip tides and how to do deal with them. Basically, you need to stay calm and try to swim parallel with the beach until you come out of the rip. Then the waves should bring you in. I fear this advice is not enough to bring humanity safely onto shore.
The experience very much emphasised for me the RNLI motto:
Respect the Water.
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