Fear of the Sea

INSPIRED BY AND FEATURING ARTWORK BY CHEENO.

Seasar Waterways sat in his swimming trunks on the edge of a wooden dock leading out to his father’s favorite river, The Ways. A few miles ahead, the river and the sea met. “That’s called a confluence,” his father Banks had told him many times until he could remember.

They had been coming here since he was born and technically, this was Seasar’s favorite river, too. Their house, which had been in the Waterway family for uncountable generations, was a quarter mile walk from here. This was their weekend, summer and holiday spot, and the place Banks took Seasar whenever he needed to tell him life changing news.

Over four years ago, Banks told Seasar he had cancer on this dock. He’d just returned from college for the winter holidays and they barely came out here after the news. Somehow it felt as if the river was the one who gave him cancer. They’d discussed so many things here that never changed how Seasar felt about The Ways until then.

The following summer, his father drowned here, suicide. He said he couldn’t take the pain anymore and wanted to be with the water. Somehow it was not surprising to Seasar that his father chose to die in the sea. He didn’t consider it as suicide, no one in the family did.

Banks loved the water and so did his mother Brook Waterways and all before them. Not only were they all named something related to water, but they were born in or by the water, lived, and typically died by it, too.

When Seasar was fifteen, he had an unforgettable conversation with his father. There had been a few Waterways who did not start off in the world at one with the water. Seasar was one of them.

“Dad?” he had asked, long lanky legs sitting still in the water as they watched the sunrise.

“Uh huh?”

“Why are people scared of the water?” Seasar had wanted to ask that question for years, but it was tough to admit it out loud. Banks, a deep sea diver, was the most fearless person he knew when it came to water.

“Two reasons, son,” Banks had begun, exhaling noisily as the first bit of sun began to peak over the blue horizon, turning everything all sorts of orange. “The sea reminds people of their humanity and mortality, both of which we are very afraid of.”

“What do you mean?” he asked, ignoring the sunrise to look at his father.

“Humans have tried and succeeded more or less in controlling land, air, and water,” Banks began. “We never needed to own nothin’ on the earth. It always provided. But once we saw the potential for power and control, the wars for land began.”

Banks looked up at fading stars and Seasar followed his gaze. “Man has always been fascinated by what’s above. Stars. Planets. Aliens. God. In the early 1900s, we started with airplanes. In the 50s, we went beyond our planet. You can even have constellations named after you. These days there are all kinds of theories about chemtrails and weather manipulation.”

His eyes returned to the river as Seasar continued looking at his father. “But this? Water? We could never really control it. Sure we sell water by the river, in bottles, and we throw our waste in it. Yet no man can control the flow of things. We built dams and made boats, but at the end of the day, if the water decides, it can swallow everything like the Great Flood two-point-o. People are scared of the water because they can’t control it,” he repeated, “the same way if tears come from the clouds or you, you can’t stop ’em.”

Half of the sun was above the horizon. The boy and man watched it silently for a few moments before Banks spoke again. “Fear, Seasar. When we can’t swim, we fear drowning. When he can swim, we fear everything else in the sea. It’s impossibly deep and consistently unfamiliar. Man hates what he fears and the sea is the never ending unknown.”

Banks inhaled and exhaled deeply. “I’m still scared of it, son,” he admitted, “but somehow it reminds me of how alive I am. I learn something new or I’m reminded of something I’ve forgotten every time I dive. Nothing else in life gives that to you aside from having a cute kid,” he said with a smile as he patted his son’s head.

Seasar smiled though he didn’t understand what he taught or reminded his father of. He did not feel infinite and beautiful like the water.

“I don’t want to die,” Seasar confessed some moments later, head hanging in shame as he looked into the water. He really wanted to be a proper Waterway and learn how to swim and take on deep diving like his father. But not once did Banks ever force him to learn.

“How come you never made me learn how?” he asked his father shyly, often wishing Banks had forced him. He looked up at his older reflection timidly, hoping he didn’t offend him, though his father was rarely upset.

“Facing death is the only kind of living there is. You’re afraid you’ll fail and you’re afraid of what happens if you succeed,” Banks answered, looking deeply into his son’s eyes. “I never forced you to learn ‘cause it’s up to you how you want to live, Seasar. You can live in fear of fear or live in harmony with it. Every fear teaches you something about yourself. My family has always believed in letting our children explore at their pace. Of course we encouraged you and even gave you lessons, but you were afraid beyond teaching. I blame your mother’s side,” he said with a chuckle and a wink. “It’s always been up to you, Seasar,” he added as warmingly as the sun’s morning heat.

It’s always been up to me, Seasar thought as he looked at the water. He didn’t want to die, but he didn’t want to be afraid even more. Without thinking it through, he pushed himself off into the river that day and used his desire to learn from fear to help him swim to the top. His father hadn’t gotten into the water just in case Seasar needed him.

As Seasar swam alongside the beautiful, fearsome, but comforting blue today, he knew his father had believed in him enough not to come in the water that day. His father had left life brave and in the water on his own terms.

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