Bethany Hamilton was born in Kauai, Hawaii in 1990. Many locals on the island say she was born with saltwater in her veins. Her dad, Tom, was the "ultimate surfer nut" (Hamilton Soul Surfer) and her mother, Cheri, was also obsessed with the sport. Naturally, she was drawn to the ocean and began to surf when she was 3 years old. Bethany was homeschooled to train more, and it paid off. By age 8, she was surfing in competitions, and by age 9 she had already earned her first sponsorship from RipCurl (Ott). Although she was young, she had great potential to fulfill her dream of becoming a professional surfer. On Halloween morning at age 13, Bethany went with family friends, the Blanchard's, to surf Tunnels Beach. It felt like an ordinary day; however, her promising future was seemingly de-railed during the events that follow.
"It came, literally, out of the blue. I had no warning at all; not even the slightest hint of danger on the horizon." -Bethany Hamilton
Bethany was calmly relaxing on the board with her left hand dangling in the warm ocean water. The waves were calm, and she had only been in the water for about a half an hour. Suddenly, Bethany felt a terrible pressure and snag on her arm. Immediately, the water around her turned bright red and she knew what had happened: shark attack. Bethany was attacked by a 14 foot tiger shark and lost her entire left arm (Ott). The next few hours were a whirlwind of emotions and difficulties, a time that Bethany refers to as the dark hours. She remembers catching glimpses of people helping her, but she was repeatedly going in and out of consciousness. One moment she clearly recalls was entering the ambulance and hearing the paramedic whisper in her ear, "God will never leave you or forsake you" (Hamilton Soul Surfer). It was a miracle Bethany survived the attack after losing 60% of her blood and undergoing multiple surgeries (Durham).
The days following her attack, Bethany felt lost in the world without surfing. When she was previously confronted with the question "To whom do I belong?" she answered with surfing and her family. She has a very close relationship with her parents, similar to Marjane's relationship with her grandmother in Persepolis.
When Marjane was growing up in Iran, she frequently changed her lifestyle to conform to those around her in search of her identity. She imitated popular figures such as Kim Wilde and Iron Maiden and bought Michael Jackson pins and punk rock posters (Satrapi 131). During her adolescence, Marjane felt lost, alone, and abandoned by God. This is portrayed very well through the slide shown above. Marjane is drawn floating in outer space with no bearings. She is mindless, unable to navigate her own life (Satrapi 71). After Bethany's attack, she felt similar in some aspects to Marjane. Surfing is what Bethany identified herself with, and without it, she felt lost (video- 1:20:08). Bethany felt that God had betrayed her and could not understand why His plan entailed this attack when she was on the way to becoming a professional surfer.
Luckily for Bethany, she quickly opened back up to God, and her accident helped her find herself in the long run. She realized she was meant to be more than just a professional surfer. She was meant to be a light of God and spread His word. Without gaining popularity from the attack, she would have never been able to reach out to as many people she does today.
Through her display of courage and wisdom, Bethany acts a source of inspiration in my life. Her shark attack is an example of a eucatastrophe, translated as a good catastrophe. The situation appeared to be a disaster at first; however, it helped her flourish in the end. Bethany acts as a positive example to me to change not only my mindset, but also my behavior, just as Kierkegaard aims to do with his parables. The Parables of Kierkegaard, edited by Thomas Oden, explains in the introduction that Kierkegaard’s parables aim “not merely at a change of mind but a change of will” (Oden xiv). Oden proclaims, “Kierkegaard’s parables intend to communicate an enriched capacity for self-examination leading to increased moral sensitivity and intensified spirituality” (Oden xv). Bethany’s perseverance challenges me, just as Kierkegaard’s parables aim to do, to become a better person, not just by thinking it, but by taking action and pursuing change.
Kierkegaard wrote a parable called the “The Happy Conflagration,” which appears in the book Introduction to Christianity by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. In this parable, a fire broke out in the backstage of a circus, where all of the performers were dressed in costume. The clown came out to inform the public, but no one took him seriously- the crowd applauded and laughed. The more the clown tried to explain the fire was real, the more laughter he was applauded. Eventually, it was too late and both the circus and the town burned to ashes. This story is referenced as an analogy of how people view theologians today- a clown. This parable contains an element of truth in society today; it reflects the oppressive reality in which theology is imprisoned and its “frustrating inability to break through accepted patterns of thought and speech and make people recognize the subject matter of theology as a serious aspect of human life” (Ratzinger 40). Furthermore, it teaches that both the believer and non-believer are threatened by uncertainty in his or her life that shines light on the fragility of faith.
Even famous religious figures who appear grounded and confident in their faith experience these moments of doubt. For example, consider St. Therese. She grew up in an atmosphere of religious security, and her entire existence was molded by the grace of God. Her faith seemed to be an “almost tangible reality that could not be removed by any amount of thinking” (Ratzinger 42). Yet this very saint left behind her “shattering admissions” (Ratzinger 42). For example, she said that she was “assailed by the worst temptation of atheism” (Ratzinger 42).
Speaking metaphorically, only a loose plank floating in the sea connects human beings to God, and eventually the floating plank will sink if it does not find ground. A believer must place his or her faith in something strong to avoid losing faith and pursuing doubt. Bethany was haunted by this doubt following her accident. She had doubt that she would never be able to surf again. However, her relationship with God remained strong (with a few struggles, Bethany does admit). Bethany states that she's "spent her whole life enjoying the ocean, the surf, and the sand on the beach...but I've seen how one wave can just wipe out a sand castle in a second" (Hamilton Rise Above 12). Bethany made God the rock in her life- her foundation. She keeps her relationship with him strong because she knows she can't put her hope and faith into something that will disappear (Hamilton Rise Above 12). She knows God will never disappear from her life, and He helped her discover that her new purpose was to be a light of God through her surfing and to reach out to others to follow their dreams and rise above life’s difficulties.