For the Love of Sri

Sri Flowers

Sometimes we meet people who are exceptional. Even within a short period of time spent with such a person, he/she may impact our lives in momentous ways – both perceptible and imperceptible. Sri Shim was one such person in my life. Sri is Claire’s stepfather, although such a term falls short of describing their relationship. Regardless of such technicalities, I was blessed to spend about 10 months, broken up in short stints over the period of 5 years, in Sue and Sri’s home. Sri taught me so much about life that I couldn’t know where to start explaining. But one thing he imparted on me was his love for surfing.

Anytime I got to surf with Sri was a special opportunity. His energy – always positive, beautiful, excited with every moment, was especially heightened when surfing. I’ll never forget his voice, I can still hear it as clear as the sunrise on the last day we surfed together – “That’s the one, Justin!” “Go, Justin, Go!” With Sri, it didn’t matter if that wave was barreling overhead, or barely small enough to catch on a longboard – it was THE ONE.

Sri surfing and loving life
Sri surfing and loving life

Sri and I usually went out to ‘Castles’, a long-boarding spot with what are normally very small waves and no crowd. I like this spot because I am a lousy surfer who doesn’t have the skill or strength to shortboard, or the Ocean presence to be out in big waves. Sri patiently helped me learned to surf, and –very slowly- how to read the ocean and its waves. After enough visits to Sri and Sue’s, I started desiring bigger waves – to push myself to learn more about surfing, and about the ocean.

On my last trip to Hawaii, Sri decided to take me out to his favorite surf spot – Ala Moana bowls. This spot is a local favorite, and the waves are much more defined and often much bigger than at Castles. The day we went, the waves were ‘small’ – maybe about shoulder high (my shoulder, Sri’s head) on big sets. Of course the waves looked small and manageable from shore – they usually do. We paddled out, fighting through waves which, when lying flat on a surfboard, looked much more intimidating. What’s more, I’ve always been a bit intimidated to sit in a ‘line-up’ – a group of surfers waiting for a set to come through. There is lots of unwritten surfing etiquette and cultural custom as well, to navigate.

The first set came through, and Sri was after the very first wave. Watching him surf was a gift: everything was graceful – no wasted motion, every action precise, and the guy just didn’t miss a wave. After watching him effortlessly, suavely catch the wave, I lined myself up for the next one. I started paddling, to get up to speed. I felt that all the variables were correct – I was in the right place both regarding my distance from shore and the left-to-right alignment of the break. I paddled into the wave, and was excited to have gotten everything right. Except one thing… This wasn’t Castles, and there were lots of other surfers around. Just as my tip broke the plane of the wave I looked left to see that another guy – an older local – had already gotten in the wave. I saw him too late, and as I pulled back on the board to get out of the wave – and his way – the momentum was too much. I managed to avoid colliding, but his leash tangled with the tip of my board, and I saw him come crashing into the wave.

He looked over at me as he came up, frustrated but not angry, and reprimanded me: “You gotta look behind you before you get in the wave!” I apologized profusely, and then paddled back out to the line-up – where I now was even more timid. Here I was, that haole (white guy) who isn’t local, surfing out of his ability level and cutting off Uncle – who’s probably been surfing here longer than anyone else around. Except, of course, Sri.

Sri surfing his favorite spot – Ala Moana Bowls
Sri surfing his favorite spot – Ala Moana Bowls

He came paddling out after his long ride into shore, beaming with the smile of his which is beyond description yet will never leave me. He paddled right into the middle of the group, right next to the Uncle I had just cut off, and started greeting everyone by name. They all knew him – he’s been surfing that spot longer than anyone out there. More than 40 years. And then he introduced me to the group as his son-in-law. And suddenly, everything was love. People were glad to meet me, chatting and asking questions, and even letting me have some waves that they rightfully could have caught. And for that day I was the ‘coolest’ that I’ve ever been. Maybe the ‘coolest’ I’ll ever be.

That’s the kind of man that Sri was. Just knowing him was enough to be accepted, to be loved and treated with respect and kindness. It’s like his energy was so beautiful and so strong that just by being near him, I became a better person. Just by having him in my life, seeing the sincerity and love and bliss with which he lived every moment, I gained a new perspective of what is possible – of how I want to be, and who I want to be. And so did everyone that was blessed to have him in their life.

Sri with his dancing face on. The light of the party.
Sri with his dancing face on. The light of the party.

Though I was in Zambia during the ceremony celebrating his life, I still felt his energy strongly here. I sat alone praying and meditating at a local waterfall. As I walked through the darkness, trying to find meaning in the tragedy of loss, trying to understand why such a beautiful soul would be taken prematurely, I smelled flowers. I stopped and looked around, and found a beautiful clump of white flowers blooming under the full moon. I stopped and felt Sri’s presence. Through tears of emotion so strong that joy and sadness blended into indescribably acute awareness, I felt Sri’s love. And then I understood that Sri’s wave had come, and his soul was riding a cosmic wave of love and light. “That’s the one, Sri! “ “Go, Sri, Go!”

Sri shim memorial

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