I didn’t think I could last much longer without taking a breath. I was tumbling, churning, with no control over my body. I was underwater in a riptide with waves pulling at me like pit bulls with locked jaws. I was in full panic. I am drowning. Somehow the ocean spit me out. I lay in the sand, gasping and crying.

This happened to me when I was about ten years old. My parents had a beach house at South Bethany, Delaware, where we spent many lazy days on the beach playing in the water, or later, as teenagers, my sister and I working on our tans. This particular day my mother was sitting on a beach blanket, smoking a cigarette, sipping an adult beverage from a paper cup, and chatting up some other moms who summered at a leisurely pace.

After the ocean regurgitated me, it took me a few minutes to process what had happened. I looked at my mother some distance away, thinking she must have seen me in distress, but there she was sitting, sipping, and chatting away. No one had come to my rescue. I almost died, I thought. I needed someone to wrap their arms around me. To tell me I was safe. To tell me I was loved. Not to worry. Nothing to fear.

I staggered over to where my mother was sitting with her friends. My whole body was trembling as I slumped before her.

“Mom, did you see I was in trouble out there? I couldn’t get above water to take a breath.” I started to cry again. “I thought I was going to die.”

All I wanted was for her to hug me and tell me everything would be OK.

But this is what she said with irritation in her voice: “You’re fine.” And with a push, “Now go away.”

I was bereft. There was no comfort to be had. I walked away and sat quietly, hoping that at least the sun would warm me so I could stop shaking.

Many years later, when I read a section in A Course in Miracles called “The Eternal Fixation,” I began to understand. My longing for comfort, love, and safety from my mother that day on the beach was actually a call for God. “Fixation is the pull of God, on Whom your mind is fixed because of the Holy Spirit’s irrevocable set” (CE: T-5.IX.4:2).

My 10-year-old mind would not have been able to process this. All I knew was that a mother was supposed to love her children, comfort them, and keep them safe. My mother turned her back on me many times, not just the day I thought I would drown. So I gave up that yearning and put on the armor of her “run it off” attitude as a way of protecting myself from her neglect.

Now through the lens of the Course, I realize my mother didn’t do anything to me. I was responsible for making decisions about myself based on the things that happened in my life. When I judged negatively, I was mistaken.

But it turns out my yearning for protection, for safety and love is something we all want, either consciously or unconsciously. In truth, it comes from only one source—God—not parents, friends, or life partners. In each of us, this yearning is old but not forgotten. It is called the eternal fixation, the pull of God that may have been pushed down into subconscious smoldering, but the pull of Him Who loves us has always been there and will be there until we find that place inside of us that feels His embrace.

“You were eternally fixated on God in your creation, and the pull of this fixation is so strong that you will never overcome it.” (T-5.IX.9:2)