A storm had blown up the coast a few days before and the ocean was still reeling from the power of that wind. The surf was rough and the waves could knock a grown man down. From my sand chair, I watched a little girl of about 5 or 6 as she jumped in delight as the water came close to her toes. Her mom was keeping a close watch on her as she danced at the water’s edge. She reminded me of the sandpipers who scratch about as the tail end of a wave thins out on the sand. They follow the wave as it retreats. Then, just as the water regroups and slams another wave upon the sand, the little birds scatter before the water only to follow the waves retreat in an endless cycle. I find myself chasing down memories of my own children playing in the surf. I can reach back even further to my own childhood spent on a New Jersey beach. It was a little game of “You Can’t Catch Me!” that we played with the waves, running in just enough to get our toes wet and then scampering back to the safety of dry sand. What we really wanted was to ride those waves but we were too small to risk it, especially if the waves were rougher than normal. So this little girl flung her arms above her head and spun her feet into the sand and jumped high just as the edge of the wave crept close.
As we get older and learn the art of keeping our balance and diving through the waves, we forget about that childhood dance that had kept us entertained for hours. But I was watching this child and remembering how it felt, a curious thought struck me. We still love to tempt fate. We still get a thrill out of leaning into risky behavior just enough to get our feet wet and pull out just in time. Why else would we gather round to watch a schoolyard fight before stepping in to stop it? Even something as innocent as window shopping takes us dangerously close to coveting. Most of us consider speed limits to be suggestions rather than a law and have no trouble driving just fast enough to still be under the radar.
Why, O Lord, do you put up with us? Why do you continue to love us when we are so reckless? You offer shelter and we turn our back, wanting to feel the exhilaration of the storm right up to the moment that the lighting gets too close and we are forced to run for cover. And still you will hold your arms out to gather your wayward children in. As we dance before the waves, You love us. As we grow into other, more dangerous thrills, You still love us. You provided us with questioning minds that always wonder, “What if I do that? What would happen?” And in this way scientists have invented, artists have dreamed and explorers have crashed forth into adventures that expanded the boundaries of our knowledge. Guide us, O Lord, as we continue to dance at the water’s edge and never let a wave go by unchallenged.
Dance on, little one! Your time will come.