With a friend visiting the island for the first time, I did what I love to do: venture to one of my favorite places in the world, Waimanalo beach. As usual, it was idyllic. But as we approached the shoreline, we saw it: “MAN-O-WAR STINGS ARE PAINFUL. STAY OUT OF WATER.” I am someone who has developed a high regard for the people who patrol these waters for our safety, the lifeguards. And I know they took the time to put up those signs, so there was probably something to it. My friend and I found some shade, set up our chairs, and soaked in the sights, safe on the shore.
One of my favorite things is spending time with childhood friends. We were just talking and talking. See my friend and I have known each other since freshman year of high school. We’ve seen one another through a lot of phases of our lives. And he reminded me of a time when he was wrestling with something new that came to be in his life, and I said, “Well, the war is over, and you lost.” He explained how profound he thought that was…until he realized later that it’s a pretty common phrase in spiritual and philosophical circles. And we had a good laugh at how profound he thought I was for a little while.
But that is the thing about common wisdom. We can hear principles, beliefs, ideas, and all kinds of other ways of thinking and feeling for years. But until we are ready, until we are faced with a new or altered reality, we may not be ready to understand. I kind of liked the idea of my friend being helped by a common idea and not some special one I made up. It gave me more confidence in what I’d said. And we sat there watching the waves lap up and talked more about how we’ve been and what it feels like to be here by the ocean.
After a while sitting there, it struck me that I didn’t see a single man-o-war. I had lived in places with man-o-war and there were no blue balloons bobbing along the surface. I started to wonder if the lifeguards were just phoning it in. And then I saw people start to frolic in the surf, and that was it. I got in and rode the waves for a while and it was marvelous. Then between waves I looked to my left and saw something I’d never seen.
Floating along the surface was a tiny bubble, tinged slightly blue, that did not burst like the others made by the churning surf. And then it hit me: man-o-war might look different here than in the Gulf of Mexico. And as it turns out, they do. These bubbles, barely visible, were much harder to detect. Their plan of attack in the war they’re waging is much more subtle. And as I now nurse the stings pulsing and itching on my skin this morning (I’m 100% fine, don’t worry), I am reminded of ways I’ve lost wars I never knew I was fighting, of ignoring signs of warning. And I can smile remembering that “This war is over; I lost.” And I can be at peace with that. Now I understand.
And may it ever be so.
Rev. T. J.