Beneath the tranquil facade of idyllic ocean waves, a deadly undertow often awaits an unsuspecting swimmer. Until one experiences the unseen force, it is difficult to comprehend its power. Strong swimmers tell of the exhausting battle of endurance while treading water or swimming parallel to the shore until they break free. We have all heard stories with tragic endings where a rip claimed one life or several others who attempted to help.
Sidney Poitier shares an eye-opening testimony to an undertow’s power in his autobiography, The Measure of a Man. The force often grabs without warning, and it leaves a lasting impression on all who experience it, even if watching from afar.
Life presents its own undertows. Many people show a calm facade while struggling against personal undertows. An unseen battle rages against the current of life while they smile and assure the world that all is fine. Sometimes they emerge and never speak of their personal trials. Some teach others by sharing their experiences, while others realize they’re in too deep and ask for help. There are some who feel overwhelmed and lose the will to endure the struggle.
The world lost a special soul this week to an undertow that overwhelmed him. We will miss you, Franklin Mayorga, of the little pueblito of Bejuco, Nandayure, Costa Rica.
Ironically, I recently rediscovered this poem that touched me when I was young. It seems appropriate as an ending to this epistle.
THE UNDERTOW by Carrie B. Morgan
You hadn’t ought to blame a man fer things he hasn’t done,
For books he hasn’t written or fer fights he hasn’t won;
The waters may look placid on the surface all aroun’,
Yet there may be an undertow a-keepin’ of him down.
Since the days of Eve and Adam, when the fight of life began,
It ain’t been safe my bretheren, fer to lightly judge a man;
He may be trying faithful fer to make his life a go,
And yet his feet get tangled in the treacherous undertow.
He may not lack in learnin’ and he may not want for brains;
He may be always workin’ with the patientest of pains,
And yet go unrewarded, an’ my friends, how can we know
What weights he may have climbed to but fer the undertow?
You’ve heard the Yankee story of the hen’s nest with a hole,
An’ how the hen kept layin’ eggs with all her might and soul,
Yet never got a settin; not a single egg I trow;
The hen was simply kickin’ ‘gainst a hidden undertow.
There’s holes in lots of hen’s nests, and you’ve got to peep below
To see the eggs a-rollin’ where they hadn’t ought to go.
Don’t blame a man fer failin’ to achieve a laurel crown
Until you’re sure the undertow ain’ draggin’ of him down.
From Tony’s Scrap Book, 1940- 41 edition (Anthony Wons)