I learned how to wager an exacta, trifecta or across the board while sitting beside my grandfather at the horse track on sweltering Sunday afternoons. He always bet the one horse on the nose. No matter the jockey or the horse’s lineage, he liked to see the one horse win.
I was never very good at betting on horses, didn’t really want to be since I’m equinophobic, but no matter if my horse won or lost I’d always end up with a few extra dollars in my pocket for ice cream.
I have gotten pretty good at over-unders though, although not the ones where you wager whether the Super Bowl score will be higher or lower than 74. Growing up in a warm-weathered beach town, I spent a lot of time being tousled by the Atlantic Ocean while my mother caught up on the family gossip and her suntan on the sand behind me. I’d bet she’d tell you she was paying close attention.
There comes a point while playing in the waves when I’d have to test the odds, deciding over or under this oncoming wave. I became a pro at assessing the break. If the undertow was pulling my feet closer and closer to the wave’s crest, it was an easy decision — over. I’d just float along, maybe add a little hop for some more height, and find myself watching from behind as the wave crashed and rolled its way to shore.
Now, if the wave had already crashed and the whitewater was rushing toward me, that’s another easy choice — under. I’d clasp my hands on top of one another and dive below the tumult.
Sometimes, though, I’d find myself staring right at the face of a wave with the peak reaching over my head. Yes, I could make it over, but there’s a chance the wave’s lip would smack me in the face. I could also go under, but the whitewater could trap me under the surf until the wave is gone, delaying my next breath just past comfort. Which do you wager is the safer bet?
Nature is a gamble. The ocean can lead you to an uncomfortable midway, smushed between the known and unknown, just as the wave reaches its peak momentum. There is no timing, no finite answer, just a feeling — over or under. You make your decision and stick to it.
If I’m on the peak of a mountain, with just my hiking companions within earshot, or scream shot or yell at the top of my lungs shot, I can feel safe in knowing that the land below me is my home and that I have the strength to make it back to my bed that night. Or I can feel scared knowing that I’m always just one step away from a misstep.
In the middle of a forest, alone, when the quiet of the woods absorbs the sound of everything but my breathing, it’s easy to feel scared not knowing what is around every corner. It’s either turn back or move forward. Bears meander just as much as I do.
Or I’m walking onto a frozen lake, knowing that in just weeks everything about the spot will be different and that I mean it and feel it when I think, “I wish I could stay in this moment forever.”
But I never can.
It’s the over and under of nature, of life. Over is you step out farther onto the lake and fall through, under is you step on the lake and enjoy the day.
Over is you make a choice and move forward with your life, living happily in the moment for which you had planned. Under is you make a choice and move on with your life, living in a moment you didn’t expect.
It’s important to face the wave and the vastness that is the sea and decide whether you’re going over or under.
Only then can you swim back to shore, to your mother’s retelling of your grandfather’s latest boom or bust thanks to the one horse last Sunday.
Reach Kat Sorensen at email@example.com