Time, tide are great teachers

ELBOW BEACH, Bermuda

The ocean is a great teacher.

I stand chest deep in the Atlantic Ocean, just out from a pristine beach of off-white sand. Both the tide and the winds are high. The waves pound.

The air temperature is about 70 degrees, the water about 65. The locals say that’s cold for their tastes.

But for a Midwestern native accustomed to cold and often dreary winters, the water doesn’t chill. It braces.

I’m waiting for a wave I can body surf. I want to feel the water take me and hurl me toward the shore as if I were part of the wave itself, one with this vast ocean.

I feel the little swirling tug around my ankles that signals a good wave is coming. I dive forward, but I’ve gone too soon. The rushing water twists my body and pushes it down, driving me into the sand while the wave swirls over me.

The ocean, my teacher, has delivered the first lesson of the day: You’re not in charge here.

I stand up and then swim back out to where I can try again.

I first did this more than 30 years ago, on a trip to the east coast of Florida. I was young then — just in my early 20s — and my life seemed to be jumping off the rails. For much of my young life, I had believed I could will whatever I wished into existence. Success was a product of the willingness to work hard, harder, hardest — and nothing more.

But I’d run into people and things I could not control — that yielded neither to will nor to work — and that frustrated me.

A friend told me about bodysurfing. I tried it the way I tried everything in those days, by hurling myself at it with everything I had.

And I failed, again and again and again.

Finally, after several hours, almost exhausted, I began to pay attention to the water, to sense its movements and to wait for that perfect moment. I caught a wave and it sent me skimming toward the shore as if I belonged to it.

Tired and exhilarated, I stood up.

And had an epiphany.

I can’t control the world or other people, I thought, but I can control my responses to them.

That’s what I set out to do.

I feel another tug around my ankles. I tell myself not to be too eager, to be patient, but I wait a little too long. When I dive forward, the wave has moved past, and I just float, like debris upon the surface of the water.

I stand up, then stroke back out to try again.

My epiphany in the Atlantic all those years past altered my life.

That does not mean I did not lapse back to familiar patterns from time to time.

The most profound lessons in life — love, forgiveness, patience, grief — it seems we must learn again and again.

Or maybe we just never stop learning them.

I begin to grow more attuned to the water. I feel the surge and the pull as waves roll in and then creep out.

I sense better the instant to dive and catch several that fire me to the shore as if hurled from a slingshot, moments that are satisfying without being liberating.

When I came to this island, I was weary in both body and soul. I stepped away from a native country and a profession that always seemed to be hovering on the edge of calamity.

I’d experienced a year in which family members had died, friends’ marriages had collapsed and other misfortunes had befallen those about whom I care.

All too often, I felt powerless to avert trouble, or even to help in its aftermath.

I feel a strong tug at my ankles, rolling up my calves.

I take a deep breath and launch myself forward. The water takes me and shoots me forward — and I’m rushing toward the shore as if I belonged to the ocean itself.

The refresher lesson is clear: Don’t fight the tide. Understand it.

I stand where the wave leaves me, on wet sand, at peace with both the world and myself.

The ocean is a great teacher.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.