"That's you, boy. He came for you."
Laughter breaks out suddenly like rain. Or tears.
We left the advocate after 15 years. My husband, profoundly touched by the spirit of the place, went into the seminary. We followed as his career took him to other churches, first as a seminarian, then a curate, and now as rector of his own parish. At first we cried. Now we're clergy family.
Okay, guys, two commandments: Love God, love people. Give it up.
Sometimes I meet the young adults who were once at the Advocate. In the years since our beach trip, the boys are as likely as not to have spent time in jail. The girls have had babies. One is being raised by someone else. They struggle: to help raise younger siblings, to earn a living, to make relationships better than those they inherited. They always recall that trip to the beach—the big, splashy sunshine and cold salt water.
And when they do, I recall my terror as they rushed into the surf.
"I could swim," Jason assured me, shouting, his voice cracking.
No he couldn't; any fool could see that. I remember feeling big and vulnerable. I was pregnant with our younger daughter. But even without the pregnancy, I could never have swum well enough to save them.
I remember that revelation—Jesus!—that I could only save myself. What kind of adult would go through life with just enough for herself? Just enough swimming skill, or time or love or money? Why pray for abundance and live out of scarcity? What would I do if the undertow sucked one of them down and out? Why had I brought them here in the first place?
My kid could swim, of course. She whispered it to me, as if reading my mind. "I could get him."
She was 8.
"Everybody out! Out! On the beach. Now!"
Uh-oh. Now we're in trouble.
Jesus, we just got here.
"I'm going to go into the water," I said. "And I'm going to place myself at the edge of where you can go. No farther. I can't protect you otherwise."
My daughter, the athlete, looked at me as if to ask whether this dictum could possibly refer to her, too. At 3, in this same ocean, she told me, "Don't touch me, Mommy!"—then looked around to make sure that I stayed just behind her, absorbing the shock of waves. "But don't let me fall."
But I wasn't protecting these children. I hadn't taught them to read. I hadn't taught them to swim. All we had done was pray together. We had meditated: Roll up the light of love in a ball at your feet, pull it over your legs and body and face. One tiny girl who acted as a parent to her brother asked to be allowed to imagine him inside the light with her. We'd held up a mirror, and they'd said to the dark faces that they only partially approved: I am made in the image of God. We sang to carve into the place our covenant: Here, in this space, no adult would harm them: This little light of mine / I'm gonna let it shine.
We Hear You!