I liken the important lessons that are scattered throughout my life to tiny little treasure boxes. My boxed lessons might arrive by way of friends, coworkers, or unwitting strangers, but children are the most prolific box droppers in my life. In the surf, recently, I discovered a life changing treasure box that my son has been trying to help me see for years.

For as long as I can remember, I have been afraid to venture very far into the ocean. Water any deeper than my knees causes primal fear to pulse through my entire body. Before my son was born, I was a self-avowed sun worshiper, venturing into the water only when I needed to cool down. Now, I venture deeper into the water because he wants to.

Not wanting to pass my fear of the water on to my son, I have forced myself to smile through hundreds of hours of play in waist-deep water. In turn, I have also sloshed through a million nightmares about my tiny offspring being plucked from the water while I ineffectively pummeled the sharks.

A true water baby, beach trips during his toddler years found us jumping to ride the gentle swell of the waves as we sang “Weeeee!” During these years, I jumped and sang until my legs and my voice were tired. On our brief retreats to the safety of the beach, he could barely accept a drink and a snack before he insisted we return to the water. By ages 4 through 6 he was jumping in the swells, unsupported by me and too mature for “Weeeee!” By age 7, he wanted to see how far he could make himself go out into the ocean. At age 10, he wanted us to slam ourselves against the crash of the waves. It was like being in a mosh pit with fire hoses aimed at us. Though I teetered on the edge of terrified and scared to death, I knew I was fortunate to be by his side while he played in his element.

Sometime in the past few years, my son placed a box in the surf for me to find in my own time. He has patiently guided me toward this box, again and again, year after year. This year, I finally saw it.

On my first day at the beach without him in 10 years, I anticipated basking in the sun much of the day. I smeared my oily self across a blanket but found the day too hot to nap. Missing him, I made my way to the ocean to sit in ankle deep water and splash about. I was doing exactly this when an uncomfortable feeling began to tug at me. I felt like I’d begun a motion and not completed it; like a racquet half swung or a word half spoken. I was feeling drawn to deeper water. I wanted to go out and fling myself against the waves. “What the…?!” I screeched in my head. I decided not to analyze it too much but to honor the call of the ocean. I have learned to trust these feelings when they come to my heart.

I swam out until I felt satisfied, but was aghast to turn and find myself beyond the breakers. Even more confounding, words like “buoyed,” “held,” and “cradled” were drowning out the pounding of my heart and all other thought. Where had they come from? Usually, the words about deep water that filled my head were not those that can, in good taste, be printed here. It was then I heard the treasure box creak open. When I turned my gaze to the shore, I saw it. The contents of this treasure box flew straight into my heart.

I felt an unfamiliar contentedness in the water. I was half floating, half bobbing in the warmth of her. I was utterly but joyfully confused. I felt safe! Baffled but wanting to savor the pleasantness of the moment, I began to luxuriate. I pushed my toes toward the sky and trusted her strength to hold me as I lay back to float. She did! She enveloped me in warm silk hugs and lapped at me with gentle kisses. Like the sweetest of grandmothers, she gently guided me closer to shore like that. Sometime later, she plunked me down and massaged my back with the soft white foam that is the encore of each wave.

This feeling was counter to every moment I’ve spent in the water before this. I swam out to play with her again. This time the word “Mother” overcame my thinking. I reveled in the water and thought about the word “Mother.” The realization hit me harder than any wall of surf I’ve ever thrown myself against: The ocean is the womb of the Earth! Life springs from her and life depends on her. Her storms deliver life force back to the mountain tops. Her rains nurse the lakes, streams, and rivers that nurture life. Her movement influences the pulse of life. The feeling I was experiencing at that moment was that of being amniotic again! I was astounded and smiled a giant childish smile as I shed tears of gratitude for being offered this sentient awakening. The salt of my tears swirled into that of her waters. I’m so very grateful to my son for leaving me that treasure box in the surf. I appreciated that he’d spent so many years trying to show me how much fun and how trusted the ocean can be.

If you are lucky enough to find yourself in the presence of a child today, look around. Children are always dropping boxes that contain important life lessons as they go about the business of celebrating their way through life. If you watch, I bet you’ll discover that the children in your life are also prolific box droppers. You might even learn new ways to access your own divinity.

Belinda Ballew

I am a grateful mother, wife, sister, and friend. I currently live, play, and work in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina, with my husband and our sons.