While vacationing in Spring Lake, New Jersey last week, I had the kind of experience that sears the heart of a peaceable man (or woman).
My girlfriend and I were walking the beach early one morning when we noticed a colorful “Shaka Tour” tour bus parked along the road up ahead.
Down by the shoreline, a crowd was gathering around a string of blue-and-white canopy tents adorned with the words “May the wave heal us all.”
Laid out in front of the tents was a long line of blue surfboards, surrounded by the bronze bodies of some of the country’s best surfers, including former world champion Sunny Garcia.
Asking around, I discovered that this was a “surf experience day” for children with cystic fibrosis.
It was being organized by the Mauli Ola Foundation, a California-based non-profit organization dedicated to “harnessing the healing powers of the ocean” to bring natural therapies and hope to people living with genetic diseases.
Garcia and the other surfers were here to teach kids with CF how to surf.
Well, because surfing is fun, for one. And because the salt waters of the ocean have been shown to be therapeutic for the compromised lung systems of CF patients.
Cystic fibrosis is a devastating disease that creates a thick mucus in the lungs, causing wheezing and shortness of breath. Kids with CF are prone to infections as well as digestive issues.
Tragically, there is as yet no cure for cystic fibrosis, which is progressive. A good friend of mine lost her daughter Samantha, a gorgeous girl with an equally beautiful heart, to CF at the tender age of twenty-two years and eight months.
There are, however, treatments to extend and improve the lives of CF patients – and one of them is the ocean.
The Mauli Ola Foundation has been running “surf experience days” for CF kids since 2007, when the organization was founded by brothers James and Charles Dunlop, executives at Ambry Genetics.
Every year, surfers from Hawaii, California and other places get on the Shaka Tour bus (shaka is a Hawaiian term for “hang loose”) to visit shore points across the U.S. The bus also stops at hospitals, visiting children who can’t make it to the beach.
How cool is that?
There were around twenty children and their families on hand for last week’s surf experience day in Spring Lake.
Under the tents, organizers handed out surfing shirts to some very excited boys and girls while their parents chatted.
Surfers and children were paired up – and off they went into the ocean. Before long, there were kids up on boards, riding the waves.
A young local surfer with sun-bleached blonde hair came up and offered his services. Soon he was in the water too, helping out with the children.
I observed a small boy sitting between his parents’ legs. He had thin arms and legs and clearly had some kind of physical handicap that made him unable to walk. He sat on the sand with his head down, making shapes in the sand with his fingers.
Two surfers came up and spoke to the boy and his parents. The boy was fitted with a small life jacket and carried out to the water.
As the parents watched nervously from the shoreline, these two surfing Samaritans took that boy out on the ocean. One surfer cradled the boy in front of him on the board while the other man swam close by, guiding the board and chatting with the child.
The boy could not surf, but he could enjoy riding the waves on a gorgeous August day.
The experience left me pondering the age-old question of how an all-loving God could allow suffering, especially to young children with their whole lives ahead of them.
I verbalized that question to my girlfriend Rachael, a yoga teacher. She offered the explanation that our souls choose our circumstances before we take on our physical forms, as part of a multi-life journey of learning and awareness.
That could be – I don’t know. I like to think that there’s some logical reason for suffering on this earth. But maybe, I told her, it’s just the way it is.
One thing I can say for sure is that while suffering exists, so does human kindness, because I saw it in spades on that New Jersey beach last week.
If you would like to volunteer or donate to the Mauli Ola Foundation, here’s the link.
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