If The Worst Should Happen

“What’s your deepest fear?” the survey asked.

I chuckled.

“All of the fears,” was my response.

I’m equal opportunity when it comes to anxiety, very much a proponent of  “no fear left behind.”

Death by drowning, loss of a sibling, a wasted life, my car breaking down on the side of the road, sounding stupid, developing a tapeworm upon eating undercooked pork. There’s just so many fantastic options to induce a low-grade panic I then get to modulate, so as to appear normal.

But here’s a funny thing about me—I still swim. Still celebrate my siblings doing risky things, still invest in the everyday, still road trip, still publish my thoughts on the internet and still cook pork that ends up looking a little too pink.

Yesterday I went paddle boarding for the first time… in a bay filled with jellyfish.  From the shallows, the water exuded serenity. Crouched on my knees, the paddleboard imbued a kind of confidence. And up on my feet, the experience could not have felt more foreign if I was walking on the water itself.

If the sea remained calm, I could do this. If the jellyfish stayed low, I could forge ahead. Two strokes to the right. Two to the left. Three strokes to the right, then three more to the left.

I kept reminding myself to leave my head: breath in the saltwater, feel your feet, take in the brilliant blue.

I felt like a spy, or a virus, intruding upon a system not my own. I was stunned by the sheer power and scope of the water around me; it was only a matter of time before I fell prey to the forces maintaining the order of the realm.

Forces like the wake.

A yacht careened past and the water rolled off it in thick waves—agents dispatched to circle the perimeter.

Paddle up, heart palpitating I reminded myself, “Don’t fight; just ride.

Back and forth I tottered, each wave sloshing the opposing foot deeper into the depths. As I tracked the largest of the waves, I thought of the ridge of a Humpback whale, cutting through stillness, rising up beneath me, able to swallow me like any other ocean nuisance.

I’m such a little thing in this world.

The thought made my stomach flip, and in that moment, more than anything, I wanted out. I wanted land, a boring job, too much responsibility. I wanted a heart that listened to my damn anxiety and learned its damn lesson.  My torso reached forward, in spite of knowing there was nothing to grip. Then the oncoming wave swelled from the left and a reverberating wave from the pier crashed upon my board from the right, and I pitched.

The water greeted me with exuberance—a cool, encompassing thrill. I broke to the surface again with a laugh and flung my body up onto the board, wondering if the tingling at my left knee might be the sting of a smaller jellyfish.  Or maybe I was still trying to anticipate the worst.

Laid out on my board again, I exhaled, refreshed eyes scanned the horizon, salt-sticky skin picked up the breeze.

There I floated—still feeling small, a bit overwhelmed, and now flustered as my friends paddled ahead with grace.

But the water felt good.

I rose to my knees and began to paddle, finding my way to my feet again.

And so the morning passed—an asynchronous medley of me finding and losing balance and the bay.

No onlooker could say in good conscience that I came to know my craft that morning. But I came to know the water.

There’s a side of the deep only understood by the pitched.

There’s a part of fear only freed by familiarity.

What if life is about freedom like that? How might God choose to impart such freedom?

Forbidding paddle boarding?

Preventing failure?

Or pitching us into jellyfish bays?


Katy Johnson lives, dreams, writes, and edits in a messy, watercolored world.  She’s a 27 year old seminary student, discovering her hope, her longings, and the wild spaces in her own heart. Her favorite creative project right now is called Will I Break?, and someday, that manuscript may see the light of day. For now, she shares her thoughts here.