Swim Towards the Light
Life lessons from my not-so-zen dad
“Waves come in sets of seven…” This was the first piece of advice my father gave me when I was a little girl.
He was an architect, a young one at the time, with dreams of modern structures and box houses like Mies van der Rohe’s. Only we lived in the heart of Colonial New England — Marblehead, Massachusetts to be specific: the birthplace of the American Navy, home of the Revolutionary Fort Sewell and The Spirit of ’76. His clients wanted wainscoting, not walls of glass. So, when I was five, and in fulfillment of that dream, my parents bought land on Martha’s Vineyard — Chappaquiddick specifically, up two dirt roads with trees as far as the eye could see. And together they built that glass house, or one that approximated it.
It was meant to be an investment: “We’ll rent it out…a third income,” they agreed. But that lasted only one summer season. We fell in love with our house on Chappy, and it became our second home.
And so did South Beach a mile or two away. Every weekend during the warm months, we and two other families would load our respective 4x4s full of all manner of toys — windsurfers and boogie boards, paddle ball and Frisbees, inner tubes for floating over the swells, rods and reels for fishing below them at sunset. And we would traverse the sand until we found just the right spot. There we would stay until the moon called us home. It was idyllic by any standard. Except for one day.
It was late afternoon, three, maybe four o’clock. The wind had picked up from the north and was blowing the sea into a sizable chop. South Beach is known for its surf — which makes it a major draw for those who like a bit of adventure. My dad was one of these people; he never met a wave he didn’t want to ride. He was a ten-year-old boy trapped in the body of a man. When all the kids on the beach were long gone, or long done in, there Charlie would be, out near the shoals, diving forward at just the right moment in order to catch the water’s momentum and take him into shore. And he taught me to do the same, sensing correctly, that I too had that longing.
Looking back, I’m not sure what was so different about that day, other than maybe I was one of the few people in the water. I was on tippie-toes, as I often was…