Of Angels and Deep Water

When I moved to the Hawaiian islands over twenty-five years ago, I shouldered a bit of cynicism and not a little buried anger. Living in a land of volcanoes was illuminating. Time and again, my feet were held to madame Pele’s fire. Time and again, I tried to minimize her impact upon me. Goddess be damned! I rebelled. Still and yet, the earth kept metaphorically shifting and rumbling beneath my feet. Transformation was inevitable and profound.

Deceptions of a human mind unaware never fail to amaze me – what we think we know versus the facts materializing before our eyes. And although we have senses to guide us, too often we hear, see and feel only what we choose in any given circumstance. Some consider themselves brave, others boldly court hubris. Depending on the circumstance, I suppose it could be either. Or both.

Picture a brilliantly blue sunny day in Paradise. Variable tradewinds whip sand playfully on a two mile stretch of deserted beach. Sparkling turquoise waters and medium swells invite the initiated; this is a popular surf haunt, but only for the skilled. I have sat on the pali overlooking this location during winter with enormous banks of water rolling in, sounding for the world like a freight train chugging along miles of open track. This is not winter. Still, rip currents can arrive out of nowhere and the locals have warned me, time and again, to always wear fins. At least one. Never, they repeat, go out in the ocean without fins. Hell, I think, I grew up bodysurfing The Wedge in Newport Beach! I appreciate that you are looking out for me, but I know what I’m doing …

Out we go into these unknown waters, my husband and I. This is not our usual swimming site. And he’s not such a keen swimmer in the depths, has never really been. Loves boogie boarding, goes out into secondary breakers by a small reef to catch bigger waves at our regular spot. As long as he’s on that board with those fins, he’s a happy camper. I, on the other hand, prefer merging swells and body into one, as much as possible. I head out. He backs off. Out I go, where the waves are breaking. I mean, I really. Go. Out. At this point, it seems I have no choice. The undertow is severe. There is no longer sand beneath my feet. I flow with the ocean’s decision to carry me further into uncertainty.

Big waves, at least those large enough to surf, usually come in what are called sets. That’s why, in those surfer movies, you see lots of waiting. Sets arrive, boarders paddle out, wait for a ridable wave, joyfully cruise on in.  Six is an average set; really, a person is fortunate to get more. I grew up near the ocean, have studied wave patterns since my youth. Today all my knowledge and perceptions go out the window. There is no rhythm, only unrelenting, pounding oceanic swells. One by one, surfers return to shore. I remain out in the water because I have no other choice. I cannot return, no matter how I try.

Rip currents have swept me down and out, far from loved ones on the beach, further from any recognition of topography. Wave after non-negotiable wave assaults me; I dive under and under and under again until I begin aspirating saltwater. I become afraid, something I rarely feel in the embrace of Mother Nature. In marked contrast to what’s familiar, Big Blue is thrashing me now, as I offer a silent prayer. To be faithful to the truth, I offer many. I ask, Am I going to die out here? In answer comes a firm No. (Gasp, gasp, dive, gulp, choke, surface into sunlight and blessed oxygen.) What, then, I query, Is happening? I hear – and believe me, I could not invent a more lucid, nor more vexing response – Rebirth.

Moments feel like hours and later, I notice a lone Hawaiian man on the beach, waving his arms in my direction. Someone has spotted me! Gesturing wildly, he points to a visible section of a large, mostly underwater a’a lava outcropping blocking my way. If I get pulled closer to it, my skin will be torn to shreds. He’s now flagging me down, down and further down the beach. Far from others but closer to him, my port in this frightening storm. He’s the only one who seems to sense the depth of my peril. Still more precious moments later as my strength is waning, he signals. I glance backward and notice the waves are at a lull. I swim. And swim. Waves break, but carry me now. Landward. My feet touch sand for the first time in what feels like hours. The man rushes out and into the water. Staring at me hard, as if to assess my sanity, he asks, Are you okay? Weakly I reach out my arm, croaking Help. As he clasps my hand, I look into steel blue eyes. Once I am safely on the beach, he disappears.

I rejoin my family. They have no idea whatsoever of the degree to which I have just faced down mortality. I am perhaps a quarter mile from where I started. How independent am I, that no one questions my whereabouts? How many times have I refused help, just to prove my strength against all odds?

Weeks later, I am still querying residents of this very small island about a blue-eyed Hawaiian. The locals just shake their heads. There is no such person. Not here on this rock. If there were, we would know. My good friend, a kindhearted street fighting big braddah offers, It must have been an angel. 

To this day, I wonder.


Papohaku Beach, Molokai


(republished from January 2012)


29 thoughts on “Of Angels and Deep Water

  1. What an amazing story … I broke out in a sweat just reading it. Thank you for re-posting, Bela.
    When we face death, we awaken to life.
    So glad you are still around my friend to tell the tale 🙏

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, well if I was sweating then, there was plenty of water to cool me down(!) And then some. I reposted this story because I was doing some writing this morning and the memory surfaced. What an incredible time on that island back then. So much ‘mana,’ as the Hawaiians term ‘power’ but really that doesn’t quite translate straight across. Mana is magic, can move mountains. So all my senses were piqued at all times, it seemed. It would take the rest of my life to fully untangle and convey how those experiences shaped deeper understandings of life’s workings I possess and reflect upon today. I was so cynical about magic, I had been well schooled by fundamentalists and yet I should have realized it never killed my ‘imagination,’ for that remained active from a young age. I just wasn’t permitted to speak of it without risking alienation from my peers. Yet there I was getting thoroughly shaken down. It was one of the most humbling experiences of my life, yet enriching at the same time. Big difference between ‘humbling’ and ‘humilating’ and I had received and likely doled out plenty of the latter, not knowing any different. Conditioning can be toxic stuff.

      And yes, being on that axis of death and life, endings and beginnings can be so enlarging to the spirit if we allow it. Thanks for that illumination. Mahalo for reading, Val – always appreciate your take on things. Big hugs, and Aloha ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I got goosebumps reading this. Wow! Mother Nature is supreme, and she gives birth to angels. You found one, and I know you were not hallucinating. People might hallucinate after this: “gasp, gasp, dive, gulp, choke, surface into sunlight and blessed oxygen.” I don’t swim much and I remember how my feet weren’t touching the sand in the Atlantic Ocean (when we were in the Bahamas). The undercurrent was taking me deep and I drank a bit of salt water. My wife was watching me from the beach but I didn’t raise an alarm yet. Somehow I could use all my strength against the current to stop the process of drowning. What you experienced, Bela, is scary (you went way deeper) but it also told you (and us now) how unyielding you are. The angel might’ve seen another angel fighting a tough situation. xo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, this would be truly frightening to someone who is not an avid swimmer. At least I am and was that way, always loving deep water best – its buoyancy, the feeling of being alone in the middle of nature somewhere.

      As to unyielding, yes, you could say that, though I did ask if I was meant to die out there, because I could easily have surrendered to it, I was that tired. When I heard ‘rebirth,’ I persisted until my feet hit the shoreline.

      As for angels, well. You are ever generous with your perceptions, Mahesh. For which I thank you. 🙏🏽 Hope you and your sweet family have an enjoyable weekend! 💗

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Took me back to a rather less dramatic, though related, incident in my childhood when I suddenly felt the undertow of the Atlantic, and felt it very strongly relative to my strength at the time (I was maybe 9 or 10). It felt then as though I was on the very edge of being able to resist. Don’t know about mana and angels, Bela, though have very often felt guarded in other dangerous situations. So glad the stranger was there for you! H ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Hariod, feeling that edge is why Chris headed back to shore. I was far too cocky for my own good back then, but became much less so afterward. Now it takes me quite awhile to feel the ocean before diving in and swimming out. Respect was well earned on its part.

      I don’t to this day know what to call these helpers, though they have shown up in my life many times. I guess angels is as good as anything. Aloha, sweet one – trust you are doing well and having a splendid weekend! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow.. I was holding my breath and kicking my legs to keep afloat with you Bela.. What a story.. And what an ordeal to undergo.
    And how fortunate you had that guiding Angel on shore gesturing you to the perils and when to swim..
    I am under no doubt he was sent to help you that day..
    And fortunate for us he did.. ❤ xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, kicking was only useful for diving under yet another wave back then and there. Fins would of course have propelled me toward shore, had I listened to the good advice I had gotten. I learned SO much from that one event.

      And yes, I, too am glad that guy showed up, because man, I don’t think I would have made it in without him. Aloha, dear Sue. Hope you have a wonderful weekend! Can hardly believe we’re headed into April already! ❤


  5. Your story took me back to my own near drowning experience on the north shore of Oahu as a teenager. I remember the undertow, the churning of the waves, spitting up salt water and after what seemed an eternity being thrown on shore by a wave the size of a house. I developed a deep appreciation for the ocean that day! Great post…glad an angel was close😇


    1. Aloha! I’m glad I had to look into my comments section in my admin panel, because I found your comment buried in SPAM. So WP is far from perfect. So sorry – I would never have ignored you otherwise. No idea! Thanks for hanging in there anyhow. So you had a similar experience, yikes. People think Hawaiian surf is like the mainland, but they couldn’t be more wrong. We are the most isolated land on earth, nearly 3000 miles in the middle of nowhere. Guess Mother Ocean has a chance to build up some serious strength. And you’re talking Sunset Beach?! Yikes again. “Wave the size of a house” I have seen them there and elsewhere on these islands, and not often. Glad you are okay! Gosh, these lessons come hard, do they not? We need angels in our corner when we are that naive. Thanks for sharing your own experience! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  6. yikes! and whew! and wow! and everything in the comments section. this sounds familiar to many, i am sure: ‘How independent am I, that no one questions my whereabouts? How many times have I refused help, just to prove my strength against all odds?.’ happy rebirth season 2018, bella.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh! My heartbeat rose with each word while reading this story! Such an incredibly scary experience Bela! Though I can’t relate to how it feels like when you are losing your strength in water, as I don’t know swimming but I have had a real death experience, when I could see it face to face, knowing well it was all over yet i emerged with few bruises from the car I was driving under the influence of youth arrogance. You know what? I too met my Angel. I could feel his presence!
    I hope you have been taking care after this experience! Stay blessed dear friend. Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Surely have been taking care and learning a lot. Interesting that you, too had that kind of experience during a similar bout of arrogance, Balroop. It’s a wonder we survive these youthful pursuits. Aloha ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I thought this looked familiar Bela. On the second read, I knew the outcome, so wasn’t quite as concerned as with the initial reading. I wouldn’t put your actions down to a bout of arrogance though. I think you are one of those supremely confident people who trusts their own abilities. That said, I think it was an important lesson for you and I’m glad you survived to share it. Aloha, dear Bela.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are too kind. I think I have been confident, yes – to the point of what’s termed ‘overconfidence’ as I really didn’t feel as though there was anything I could not do, if I would only set my mind to it. Respecting the limitations of a human body, especially in relation to Mother Nature, has long been a lesson for me which extends to this day. I mean, I’m one who used to swim out on the lake in a thunderstorm (and I mean “way” out), the better to observe its splendor. Now I realize I could have been electrocuted(!!) So you see, I really must have some powerful guardian angels!
      Sending you love, and great to see you here on WP again, sweet Marie. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

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