Two weeks ago I was called for jury duty. The morning I was to report, I packed my new book and was resigned to the idea of spending my day in a courthouse. From previous experiences, I was anticipating a lot of waiting.
Long story short, by lunchtime I was on a jury. We were to start the proceedings after lunch. It all happened so fast. I was a little dumbstruck. How did I get here? What happened to being shuffled from room to room waiting for hours only to be excused near the end of the day? Or being called into the courtroom but being excused because of one bias or another? What happened to that???
I wasn’t prepared to spend the next, goodness knows how many days listening to testimony and attorney banter. But, prepared or not, I was on that train and it was leaving the station. As I took my oath and began listening to opening arguments I realized there was no getting out of it so I settled in and gave my full attention.
It was my first time sitting on a jury. I was nervous. But by the end of the day I had wrapped my mind around it and was ready for the experience.
On the drive home I was making a mental list of the responsibilities and commitments I would need to rearrange. Appointments to reschedule and accommodations to be made.
Then it dawned on me. Tomorrow was Wednesday! Do I tell the judge, “Sorry, I may be a little late to court because I have this commitment to surf every Wednesday for a year?” I was pretty sure that wouldn’t fly.
I was trying to decide how I would I get my Wahine Wednesday surf in?
I needed to be in court by 8:45. So taking everything into consideration (traffic, travel time, time to shower and get ready, Starbucks stop etc.) this meant…Dawn Patrol. Surfing at dawn. This was earlier than any of my wahines could manage so I’d have to go alone.
I have surfed without my posse before. Sometimes, because of one reason or another, we have to surf without companionship. But, there have always been other surfers in the water. A safety net in case something goes awry. And also, other people to look equally tempting should a shark swim along. :)
I wasn’t sure if anyone else would even be in the water at this predawn hour. The thought of being all alone was unsettling. I knew the surf wasn’t going to be that big so I wasn’t concerned about the conditions. I was just very uneasy about being in the ocean alone. But, as I tried to come up with options, I didn’t feel I had a choice.
I decided to pack my car the night before (my board, leash, and a towel) so all I’d have to do when my alarm went off at 5:30am is roll out of bed into my wetsuit and fill up my jug of hot water. (I usually put my wetsuit on at the beach but thought I could save time if I at least had it half on.)
Morning came all too soon. After a restless sleep I put my wetsuit on over my bathing suit up to my waist. I pulled a sweatshirt over my head. I brushed my teeth, slipped into my Ugg boots, grabbed the hot water and I was off.
As I left my house, it was dark. Like nighttime dark. The streetlights were still on. As I drove down my street not a soul was to be seen. That was when the first twinge of fear crept in. I am getting ready to jump into the ocean in the dark and alone. Is this a good idea? I tried to put that thought out of my mind. Surfers do it all the time I decided.
I kept driving toward the beach. I would go to the Seal Beach pier. At least the pier is lit and the walk to the water and paddle out to the line up are short. I passed the pier and drove down into the beach parking lot.
As I pulled into the lot, hoping to see at least one car, my heart sank.
Empty. No one. Not one car. Not one person.
Just me and the ocean in the darkness.
I pulled into a space and turned my car off. Why am I doing this? Who does this? Am I really going to do this? After sitting there for a moment I answered my own panicked questions. Because I made a commitment, I do and YES!
I took my time pulling my board out of the board bag, hoping that someone else would pull up. They never did.
I locked my car, put my board under my arm and slowly walked down to the water’s edge. I was feeling trepidation. I was not totally convinced I should do this. I had my phone with me and decided to take pictures of the darkness. I wanted to remind myself of this moment but also I was killing time in the hopes someone, anyone, would show up.
No one did.
With my jury duty clock ticking it was now or never.
I slid off my boots, stored my phone safely inside and pulled on the rest of my wetsuit. I grabbed my board, attached my leash to my ankle and gradually headed into the water.
The first thing I noticed in the darkness was the noise, or lack of it. The only sound was that of the ocean waves gently breaking on the shore. It was peaceful. Meditative. Ironically, at the peak of my fear in anticipation of entering the water, my senses were the most relaxed. The air was still and pleasant. The sound of the surf was mesmerizing. The air was salty sweet. The lights of the pier reflecting on the water created a soft glow. The sand was soft beneath my feet.
I entered the water and looked up onto the pier. I noticed the faint silhouettes of a few joggers running by. It eased my mind a bit knowing they were near.
As I gingerly made my way into the ocean, the water was cool on my feet. After a few more steps I lay on my board and start paddling. In this moment, I felt the most alone. I was surrounded by darkness. The water was dark. The sky was dark. The only sound was the waves breaking onto shore.
I started to freak out inside. My mind was racing. I thought about sharks. I though about drowning. I thought about getting sucked out to sea. I was afraid of what was in the water with me. I was afraid of not being able to see. And I was most afraid of being here, in the water, surrounded by darkness, alone.
This feeling was surreal. Hard to describe.
I quickly realized I needed to get it together. I needed focus. I needed to quiet my mind and concentrate on what I was there to do. I was there to surf. All I needed to think about in this moment was positioning myself to catch waves. So I did. I tried the best I could to push out the thoughts of dread. I instead occupied my mind with the mechanics of the task I was there to accomplish.
So I caught wave after tiny wave. Alone. No one to try to out position. No one to worry about dropping in on me. No one to have to divide waves with.
But, none of my girls to worry about either. No one to cheer for. No one to laugh and share waves with. No one to have my back. I missed those things. The comfort of company.
After what seemed like an eternity, I realized the sun was starting to rise. The sky and subsequently the water became a brilliant shade of pink. I was starting to be able to see. People began pulling into the parking lot.
My own little personal challenge was coming to an end.
As was my solitude.
It was time for me to get out of the water and start my day. I was reluctant. I felt like I had just experienced something special. I started in silence and darkness. I watched the beautiful sun rise. I watched the world come to life. Just 30 minutes earlier I was feeling fearful and anxious. Now I was feeling peace and beauty. If beauty could be a feeling.
I had come full circle.
I paused to think…
How often am I truly alone? In darkness and in silence?
Hardly ever. Usually I am running around keeping “busy” with daily tasks, commitments, and responsibilities. The stimulation is overwhelming. “Running” at a fast pace, never letting my body or mind rest.
How often do I have to experience fear totally alone?
Usually never. When I am facing something tough or challenging or scary, I have the support of friends and family. Shoulders to lean on and strong arms to surround me when I become afraid.
Ironically, today surfing and jury duty forced me to face my fears. I would never have paddled out in the dark, alone if not for the commitment to Wahine Wednesdays and my obligation to the court. The conjunction of these two events pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to experience fear and decide how I needed to handle it.
This was timely for me. There was a reason I was called to sit on that jury. Not to solely determine the plaintiff’s fate but also to determine my own. To develop my character and expose the essence of who I am. To help me realize, I don’t need to be afraid. I am strong enough to handle my fears.
It’s no coincidence this challenge to face my fear in the water came now. It brought to my attention that my fears on the sand at times get the better of me. Fear of failure. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of being alone.
And sometimes, we just have to fight these battles in solitude.
It helps to have people in our corner, but ultimately we need to enter the ring alone.
And on this dark and lonely day, I entered the ring alone and emerged victorious. I proved to myself that I can face fear head on. That when I feel surrounded by darkness and alone I am strong enough to handle my fears and I will eventually emerge in the sunlight.
Thank you for listening!