On vacation in Cuba I was attempting to ride the waves in my inner tube but the waves just weren’t strong enough for a decent ride. In fact I looked around and could not see a single white crest of a breaking wave. Bobbing in my tube, somewhat bored, I realized I had a copy of Christopher Hitchens’ “The Missionary Position” that I was not particularly concerned with getting home in one piece. I ran to shore, tossed it in a ziplock bag and headed back out to sea.
I paddled out past the breaking waves (which appeared while I went to get the book) until the lifeguard whistled at me for going too far (about 50m out). Then I leaned back and got absorbed in the book. Suddenly I noticed my tube being pulled outwards and looked up. A giant wave was forming right behind me. I frantically tried to maneuver my way over it, but could really only use my legs as I was holding the book in my left hand and the handle of the tube in my right.
Just as I thought I was going to make it over, the wave broke beneath me, catching the front edge of my tube. Next thing I knew I was racing toward shore, clutching the Hitch over my head like a waving bull rider and crossing my knees to avoid completely losing my bathing suit. It was the best tube ride of my life. I finally bottomed out to substantial applause from those watching me by the shore.
As I paddled my way back out I realised that many people would consider this story a miracle. It seems at least as improbable as becoming pregnant after two years of trying, or filming a movie in low light. In fact, I’m pretty sure that this guy would find it just as amusing that I did not see the miraculous in this experience as I find his miracle:
Why did I not consider this improbable tube ride to be the undeniable work of a diety?Could the ride have been a result of God’s anger over reading Christopher Hitchens? Heck, according to the Catholics the Blessed Ghoul of Calcutta is capable of interceding herself! Quick, someone phone the Vatican and inform them Mother Teresa’s second miracle was one of Saintly Wrath!
However, this seems like an odd conclusion given that I thoroughly enjoyed the tube ride. Was the punishment a wardrobe malfunction that as far as I know was visible to only me and the omniscient? (Perv!)
God’s punishments have certainly (and inexplicably) become less violent than the old testament rains of fire and brimstone, but I would think he could at least capsize the tube and send the book sailing off to Florida. He turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt for looking back, but reading Hitchens in open ocean didn’t even deserve the noseful of brine I expect for doing stupid things in the ocean?
My first lesson about miracles is that I’m already resisting the temptation to embellish the tale. It would be so easy to claim that I was reading the chapter “miracle” at the time of the ride. But I wasn’t, I was just finishing part II of “Good Works and Heroic Deeds”. And without actually lying, there is certainly a temptation to leave out details that make it sound more impressive than it is. I’ve compressed the timeline like this happened as soon as I decided to read about Mother Teresa in the ocean. But I read the whole book in the ocean, and this happened on the second day. When I said I bottomed out, I imply that I rode the full 50m to shore, but I leave out the fact that the beach was incredibly shallow, and I bottomed out on a sandbar, riding only about 30m. Which was fortunate, because my ride attracted quite a bit of attention, and my bathing suit was around my knees.The second important point here is that if I considered this to be a divine sign, I presumably would have stopped reading heretical diatribes in the ocean. But I read every last word of the Missionary Position bobbing on a tube in the Caribbean Sea. And I did get a couple more rides, though none as impressive as that first one. In fact, after a couple of days I concluded that I had thoroughly misunderstood the nature of the miracle. God was so enthralled by Hitchens that I could not be capsized while reading the book. It took downright stupidity to break that myth; I finally succeeded in capsizing the tube while sitting bottomed out in the sand in the breaking waves on a particularly turbid day, clutching the heretical baggie as a talisman. But even then I failed to lose or destroy the book or pickle my sinuses.
I did seem to have better luck riding the waves while reading than while actually trying to ride the waves. But I attribute this to two things.
- I am considerably more patient while reading a book then while waiting for a good wave to arrive.
- Although few of the waves were strong enough for a solid ride, the ones that were broke out where I was reading, not in the shallower water where I was attempting to ride.
I didn’t capsize the tube while intentionally riding the waves either. But I assumed that that was all skill. I wasn’t sitting on my tube, but through it, making it much easier to keep the weight forward for the ride and much harder to flip.
Later in the week I noticed a man floating on the breaking waves on an air mattress. Though it certainly did not look relaxing, I only saw him capsize once. The waves simply weren’t strong enough to capsize anything. Though they sometimes looked impressive and produced a lot of froth, the force was almost entirely toward the shore, with no downward component.
But I wanted to ensure that this logic wasn’t the affect of my secular bias against all things miraculous. I searched my hotel room for a control book to read, but unfortunately the Gideons do not operate in Cuba. I decided that if God controls the waves he should have equal control of them at the shore. Would I have more trouble writing a curse in the sand before it got washed away than something more pious?
Definitely not. In fact if you look closely you’ll notice the second image required the use of Photoshop because I couldn’t get the full image complete before the waves washed it away. Of course that could be God protesting against my attempt to use an artistic ability he did not bless me with.
Either way I flew home convinced that my ride had nothing to do with God.