The awful truth of his crisis became apparent to him, yet throughout his
entire conscious being he resisted the fact that he was going to die.
It was an ordinary hat, but to him it was an assertion of independence. He cocked it and sauntered along the beach, his tuneless whistle drowned out by the surging roar of breaking ocean waves. Sea gulls played in the wind. Sometimes gliding, sometimes banking against the gusting air, they mewed and cried to one another. Clouds scudded across the sun, their shadows following them across the ocean's surface. Alone, hands in his trouser pockets, thumbs exposed, he hunched his shoulders and gazed indifferently toward the powerful sea as he leaned back into the wind. Occasionally, he made sure his hat was still firmly on his head.
He thought of the future. He was sure he would do something special, something unique to make his mark in the world. Though he saw the sea, heard the crying gulls, and felt the wind, he gave attention to nothing but his own thoughts. He kicked a stone and felt satisfied to see how accurately it cracked into another. He smiled. He didn't allow himself to consider that only when he was alone did he feel significant. Mainly, he lived alone in a mirrored prison of his own making. He kicked the stone again for good measure.
Suddenly the wind blustered, caught the felt hat under its brim, and blew it into the sea, where it gracefully alighted on the surface, far beyond the surf. The boy could still see its single feather proudly piercing the air as if mocking him. He felt indignant that his new hat should be taken away so effortlessly. It was hard to accept, and he decided to take up the challenge of retrieving it.
But the current was sweeping its tiny burden swiftly away. The boy looked longingly at his treasured hat bobbing tauntingly behind the swell. He held back an angry tear, and, like a sea captain, scanned the hat's possible course. A rocky peninsula jutted out staunchly into the ocean. Maybe the hat would drift by there.
But looking at the huge rocks he'd have to scale to get there, he hesitated. Didn't that foothold appear dangerous? Shouldn't he run back and get help? Wouldn't it be better to forget the whole thing? "No!" the boy thought. "I'm almost a man now; I can get the hat on my own. Besides, there's no time to lose."
As he ran along the beach, the rocks loomed higher than they had first appeared. He scrambled over some of them, slipping a couple of times but thinking nothing of it in his frenzy to reach the place where he calculated his hat might pass. The rocks were angular, sharp, and menacingly steep-the earth's bones laid bare. He made it to the top of the crag and clambered cautiously on his hands and knees. He came to where the rock dropped abruptly down to the smaller rock on which he had planned to stand. But it was scary to think how he'd get down the last fifteen feet. Had he considered the difficulty of climbing back up, he would not have attempted his descent.
Somehow he inched his way down, gripping each uninviting protrusion with whitened knuckles. Finally, with a small, nervous leap, he jumped the last five feet.
As soon as he landed, he felt the unfathomed power of the ocean. It surrounded him, sucking, heaving. It surged with tremendous might. He was afraid of such natural potency, which rarely intruded upon his manageable and self-reflective world. "Still," he thought, "I'll fetch my hat and be out of here in a jiffy. But where is the damned thing?"
Now that he was face to face with his gigantic adversary, he could understand that there was no possibility of getting his hat back. Even if it did come near, there was no way he could dare try to reach it. The barnacled rock at his feet was pitted by countless years of unwavering abrasion, making it firm footing, but as it curved to meet the water, it was covered by a dark green slime. He knew he would slip if he tried to reach down from there. To fall from that little platform would mean to be helplessly swept away and then smashed back against the rocks.
"This sea is pretty rough," he admitted, and he decided to abandon his enterprise. He turned to leave. Then it happened.
He could have thought before about the possibility. He knew well about outgoing and incoming tides and had heard about picnickers trapped in caves. But today such a thought had evaded him in his haste to find his hat. The sea or the mover of the sea was not, however, forgetful. A triumphant upsurge engulfed his small platform, knocked him down, and covered him in its fearsome embraces. Spread-eagled, he frantically grasped the crusted stone, as his monstrous enemy tried to drag him deep into its clutches. The water subsided and was gone almost as quickly as it had come.
The boy gingerly stood up and examined some cuts on his arms and legs. He shook, not so much from the coldness of the water as from fear. His mouth twisted from a fright he had never known. He wanted to call out to someone, but he knew that no one could hear his puny voice above the relentless thunder of the ocean.
He tried to compose himself, rationalizing that it would be another seven or ten waves before the next big one. He surely had time to climb to safety. Once more he turned to escape, but now his prison wall glistened. For a moment he hesitated.
"I've got to do it!" he squealed, as he attempted to climb. But he slipped repeatedly as he tried to find a foothold. Then another big wave came. Captured and bound, he was dragged effortlessly down.
Unaware of the drama going on below, the exultant gulls continued to careen through the skies, fighting and frolicking in the wind. They had no fear of the ocean, which they saw as a resting place and provider of their food. They also felt no fear of death. To them the boy seemed no more than a piece of driftwood buffeted by the waves. There were always so many bits and pieces floating in the sea.
The boy felt himself slipping down over the slimy seaweed. He tried to grab hold of something, but, covered by the wave, he could neither see nor breathe. Then his hands locked around an odd outcrop. The water subsided, leaving him half submerged. He choked and coughed as he inhaled the acrid salt water. With all his strength he pulled himself out by clasping the barnacle-covered rocks. He flopped down. Looking up at the wheeling, laughing birds, he felt envious of their freedom. "How I wish I could fly!"
But there was no time to lose, no time to check his battered body for wounds. The tide was coming in quickly now, and his small platform was awash. He crawled cautiously to the face of the rock, the waves threatening to sweep him away at any moment.
"Oh, please don't let it happen to me," he wailed, unaware to whom he was speaking. The awful truth of his crisis became apparent to him, yet throughout his entire conscious being he resisted the fact that he was going to die. He could not in any way accommodate such an idea. But death seemed inevitable. He knew that one more strong rush of water could carry him helplessly away.
"No, no, it can't happen to me!" he pleaded, as he feverishly grasped at the forbidding wall of rock.
With unprecedented clarity he suddenly saw himself to be a tiny creature controlled by infinite natural forces. He surrendered his pride. Mysteriously, he now saw handholds. He climbed without effort and found himself inexplicably at the top. He lay down. A mighty wave smashed below him, sending spray high into the air, soaking his sobbing body.
Exhausted, he rested on the safe stone and gazed thoughtfully out of window like eyes. "I'm just a little creature in this universe! But I exist. The sun exists, the clouds exist, the stars exist, the moon, the sea, and all these animals and birds exist. And I exist! I spend my time with trivial concerns. I've been thinking I'm something special. Actually everything is special. Everything is so wonderful! And I'm part of it. I don't know how all this is happening, but there must be a reason."
Like a baby discovering his body, the boy discovered another dimension of existence that had previously remained beyond his perception. He understood for a moment that beyond the powerful phenomenon of the ocean was its source, something or someone of infinite magnificence that yet remained hidden to him because of his spiritual immaturity. Then, as at the end of a dramatic performance, a curtain of comforting illusion came down over his inner eye, and his thoughts returned once more to mundane familiarity.
He crawled back along the crag and finally reached the beach. He sat down and gazed wondrously at the sea, the rocks, and the sky. The birds still wheeled in their airy habitat.
"I wonder what my life is for," he thought.
This episode is autobiographical: I was the boy foolishly grappling with Lord Krsna's powerful material energy. Although I could have imbibed a valuable lesson from this experience, wherein for a few moments I glimpsed my insignificance, I soon forgot the lesson and fell back into my small, seemingly secure world of spiritual ignorance.
Years later, however, when I was developing faith in the presence of God through scriptural and philosophical evidence, logic, and the teachings of saintly persons, especially Srila Prabhupada, remembering such vivid experiences helped demolish my stubborn resistance to the truth. After all not one wave breaks without Krsna's will.
– Rohininandana dasa