Our plan is to kayak to a beach where we will dock, adorn our snorkel gear and swim to the site of a sunken tugboat where there is an opportunity to see an abundance of fish.
Mentally I prepare myself. I’m not concerned about kayaking though somewhat concerned with the snorkelling. I experienced a significant near drowning episodes and have worked hard to overcome, to arrive at this moment. I like to know all before venturing out. I can swim, there is no current and the buoyancy of the salt water will keep me afloat though panic is the wild card and it could all go sideways quickly.
The area is rather industrial looking with a homely ship docked. The nearby beaches are covered with garbage, the sand pummelled down and grey. Beach glass abounds as does broken bottles. There is much clean up work to be done and I wonder if there is a plan.
John and I will need to share a kayak, a dicey prospect. We are used to our own craft, so will need to exercise both patience and tact. We set out. The water is beautiful and we can see to the bottom of the sea. Soon we leave the sheltered bay for the open water. Wind is a factor, though we both hunker down and get it done.
We arrive at the beach and I begin my search for beach glass, I am soon rewarded. The Guide talks about the history of the area. I give John a look which he correctly interprets to share the information with me later and I’m liberated from the history lesson to search for beach glass. There is much black glass on this beach. It isn’t really black but rather looks thus until held to the light where the green is visible. I share my bounty with our Guide, a young girl from Massachusetts who is a beach glass kindred spirit
We don our snorkel gear and set off for the sunken tugboat. It will be a distance and I prepare myself for the journey without having a shore in sight. John and the Guide lead the way and I follow behind. It seems a long way, there is nothing to see and I begin to panic. I settle myself down, slow my breathing and set out again. We arrive at the tugboat. The fish have created a very colourful home. We see fish varieties we have not seen. It’s so cool how the boat is so close to the surface. We see divers and now I realize the draw of this pursuit. Divers see stuff like this all the time. Snorkelers see only beneath the surface and close to shore.
Our Guide suggests a snorkel out to the drop off. I remember this didn’t go well for Nemo though I’m up for the experience. There are no fish to see on our way out and as such I begin to panic again. I relax myself as I know if I don’t, we will return to shore without the experience. We arrive, it’s a clear demarcation between the light and dark blue. In the dark, silhouettes of fish float.
I think about how far I’ve come to let go of my fear of water. Clearly I remember the day that I nearly died. I had swimming lessons stretching back to my youth and earned all my badges. The day in question, I made a series of unfortunate mistakes. I had shoes on my feet and was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt. I swam out to a log, thinking I could touch when I arrived. I swam against a current and arrived at the log tired. I stood up and there was no bottom beneath my feet. I panicked sealing my fate. I went down several times and like the nightmare where I scream for help, my voice was barely a whisper. No one heard. The last time I went down I saw my young daughter, who interpreted my panic for the situation at hand and began to swim to me. Instinctively, I swam away, knowing with the last clear thought that I would overpower her if she reached me. I went down for the final time and felt a peace and a realization that this is how I would die. Suddenly, I was plucked from my watery depth and brought to the surface. I gulped for air, flipped over on my back and floated, the panic gone. This has stayed with me all these years.
Years after this event, I was with a patient who had a tracheostomy tube and g-tube. We were in Hawaii. Her tube was plugged during the day, allowing her the opportunity to wade in the ocean. She signed to me to join her in the ocean. I signed back, “I’m scared.” She looked at me, put her hands on her hips, rolled her eyes and signed back, “Look at me, I have a tracheostomy tube, a g-tube and I’m going in, are you coming?” My sign language did not afford the words to explain further, and I realized in that moment that it would make no difference. I had a choice to stay in fear or to take the first dip. Sheepishly, I went with her and we waded in the ocean. This was the beginning. Gradually, I would go further, learn to snorkel and venture still further, learning to relax to keep my panic at bay. How amazing that first time when I donned snorkelling gear and saw the fish Panic melted away as I watched the fish and saw a world I would not have known had I remained on the shore, wearing the cloak of fear to keep safe.
We snorkel back to the beach and I’m proud of myself, richer for the experience. I think of the little girl who led me to this moment and send a silent thank you to heaven where she now resides.
“Face the fear and do it anyway,” has been my mantra since that pivotal day. How much do we miss when we wrap ourselves in the itchy, uncomfortable garb of fear. When we shed our fear, we are free and only then can we begin to embrace the authentic life just beyond, closer to our best selves. I know this for certain as I look at the photos of what lies just beneath the surface.