I am currently on vacation with my family in Aruba. We picked this destination because my husband and I are avid scuba divers and we were hoping to hook our kids into the sport by taking them to one of the best places in the Caribbean for snorkeling (the twins are still too young for scuba). One week into the vacation I’d say we’ve accomplished our mission. We’ve seen an extraordinary array of sea life in waters that are just a few steps from our rental house, and our one day of scuba (with our 10 year-old daughter) and “snuba” (with the twins) was highly successful.
But today we took a day off from snorkeling to explore the major landmarks of the island. We rented a jeep and traversed pock-marked dirt roads and desolate, wind-swept terrain until we reached Aruba’s number one tourist destination: the natural bridge. It wasn’t until we’d all piled out of the jeep and walked a few steps that we saw it.
The rest of the landscape is composed of the same black, jagged rock, but in this one spot the ocean has carved out an arch underneath the rock itself. Unlike the south side of the island where we’d been snorkeling in crystal clear, turquoise waters, the ocean on this side was a deep, almost sinister blue, roiling and crashing against the jagged coastline. As I approached the water’s edge, I was filled with a sense of awe at the overwhelming power of nature and the brutal strength of an ocean that could drill its way through rock to create this bridge and continued to hammer at the coast with unrelenting fury.
The kind of powerlessness I felt at the Natural Bridge reminded me of a passage I had just read in William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience where he is discussing the Book of Job (he is quoting here from the author Mark Rutherford)
In Job…God reminds us that man is not the measure of his creation. The world is immense, constructed on no plan or theory which the intellect of man can grasp.
Staring at the crashing waves, I felt this same sense of insignificance and helplessness.
But it was only 10:30am, and it was time to take the kids to the next stop. After a brief clamber around the ruins of an abandoned gold smelter’s building, the next point on our tour was the Natural Pool, located in Aruba national park, where we had planned to eat lunch and take the kids for a swim. I knew nothing about this pool and assumed it was a pure water pool located somewhere in the island’s interior. After a 30 minute skull-rattling ride over terrain that made our 4 wheel-drive jeep beg for mercy, we finally reached a cliff, once again overlooking dark and stormy seas. We walked down steep stairs, I trailing slowly behind, scanning the horizon for a sheltered, turquoise pond where my little children could safely frolic. My husband finally looked back and asked if I was OK.
“Yes” I replied, “but where is this ‘natural pool’?”
“It’s right there!” he answered, pointing straight down to the ocean’s edge. I stared at the crashing waves and finally discerned a section among the black, jagged rocks that was somewhat sheltered from the bone-crushing waters. To reach it, one had to clamber on slick, algae and barnacle-encrusted boulders.
“OK, in what possible world is that safe to swim in?” I asked.
My husband looked tolerantly at me, knowing I’d grown up in an extremely overprotective environment. Reaching the shore, he ventured over the rocks first and proclaimed it ‘safe’. I remained skeptical until he noted that there was an 8-month old baby enjoying the pool.
A few minutes later, my entire family was swimming in a stunningly beautiful pool, with sea spray occasionally misting over our heads.
Other than a few nicks we got clambering over the rocks, we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I couldn’t believe that we were surrounded on all sides by the murderous waters but remained perfectly safe. After feeling completely overwhelmed by nature at the Natural Bridge, here I felt as though I could laugh at Nature’s power. Yeah, ocean, you may be strong, but I can still swim in ya, so HA!
After swimming at the pool for almost two hours and visiting nearby caves, we returned home around five. I immediately turned around and launched myself on a long-distance run. Over the past two years I’ve become something of a fitness freak, going to the gym or martial arts class 4+ times a week. Without the benefit of either on vacation, I’ve reverted to an earlier form of exercise – running. By 5pm the sun’s blaze has softened and the continuous island breezes remain strong enough to make running quite enjoyable. Each day I’ve been pushing myself to go farther and run longer, just to see if I can. It’s almost like I’m saying to nature “Yeah- I may have had three kids and am about to turn 44 but I can run for an hour straight including 10 minutes in deep sand and still do 30 push-ups when I can get home. HA!”
I have been battling my aging just as I sometimes face waves in the ocean – full-frontal, slamming into them as if to deny their power.
But nature always has the last laugh. Despite all my efforts, my body shows the signs of the (mostly wonderful) life I’ve lived, and even if I look halfway decent given my age, maternal status and insatiable sweet-tooth, the fact is that I know which side of the looks slope I’m on – and it aint the upside. I am just as powerless to stop time as the rocks are to stop the ocean’s merciless erosion. We are both being worn down a bit every day.
As I mulled these depressing truths, I turned and saw one of my darling sons who’d come out to try to give me a hug (after looking at my sweat-soaked form he settled for a long-distance kiss). Then I looked over and saw my devoted husband, who loved me when I was eight-months pregnant with twins and was wider than a refrigerator (I’m not exaggerating – my then 2-year-old daughter found me when I was playing hide-and-seek with her because my belly poked out from behind the fridge). I know that he will love me no matter what. And I realized that my loved ones, who I am so blessed to have, they will continue to touch the world after I’m gone just as my daughter’s touch made gentle ripples in the tidal pool at the Natural Bridge.
My loved ones are my true source of strength, the reason I can really laugh, without fear.