I never wondered if I would do it. I only wondered how long it would take to start breathing again after I jumped.
That’s a paraphrase on a favorite C.S. Lewis quote in our family. “We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”
I told you I snorkled in the Atlantic Ocean, but I don’t think I told you how terrified I was before I did it. As Michael and I sat on the beach one evening, gazing at the beautiful ocean in front of us, waves lapping, people bobbing up and down in the water, floating by with their snorkels, paddling out on their boards, I smiled and said, “It’s beautiful. It’s like a Jaws scene waiting to happen.”
And as we rode on the boat five miles or so from shore to a dive and snorkel site they call Christ of the Abyss, I pictured every one of those scenes. I heard the music. I watched my future as a tiny human interest piece on Shark Week, the one fifteen minutes of fame I so do not ever want.
And that’s the thing. I love Shark Week. I find the ocean so fascinating, so beautiful and powerful and mysterious. And I love the really big animals that live there. They amaze and haunt me. They thrill me. But the idea of jumping into the water where they live was now producing in me a weakness and nausea so far past any I’d had before that I didn’t think I could survive it. “It’s just a big lake,” my family told me. Which was exactly the problem. Because even in a lake I picture my feet as they dangle in the water, and I hear the music, and I feel so glad I have no idea what’s swimming beneath me and hiding in caverns under the water. Even land animals, even pets, though I’m not the least bit scared of them, I really prefer from a pleasant distance. I love sharing space with them, I like having them around, I like them in theory. But I really don’t want to touch them.
The only way I knew my fear was mostly irrational and how I knew I was going to jump in that water or perish in the attempt, is because I wasn’t thinking about my children at all. There they sat across from me on the boat, happily strapping on flippers, masks, and life vests, and I didn’t even care. I didn’t think for one second that I would tell them they couldn’t go in or even that I would worry (very much) about their experience. My panic was so reserved for me, it didn’t extend any farther outside except a few little tendrils of it gripping my thoughts about Jake, and I felt very confident Michael’s mom would take those tendrils in hand and overcome them by staying close to him and close to the boat the whole time. She’s as scared of sharks as me, and she had done this. I clung to that as well.
And, anyway, I did it. Just like I knew I would. I thought it was kind of crazy. I questioned the sanity of every person who’d ever done it and especially the captains of this boat who did it over and over again with complete strangers, children, novices, and Jaws fans like myself. How could they know? How could they ever presume to know that nothing terrible would happen?
I put the yellow inflatable device on, mostly because it was fluorescent and I wanted the boat to be able to see me at all times, grabbed my mask like she taught me, and jumped. And it was probably about .8 seconds that I didn’t breathe after that. I mean, I will never forget the feeling of sheer terror that accompanied me into that water. But then I did breathe, and I shoved my mask in the water almost defiantly, daring the experience to prove to me it was worth this feeling.
And then it so was. Remember imagining you could walk on the ceiling and how different the house would look from up there or wishing you could shrink and walk through a doll house or an aquarium? That’s what this felt like. Like I’d been dropped into a situation that shouldn’t really be possible, but it was. And I was there, watching other things live and move and go about their day like an alien having a look at earth. It was so cool.
I popped my head back up, the terror not exactly gone but definitely conquered, Jake safe and happy within a few feet of the boat and a heartbeat from Michael’s mom, my oldest two swimming away with my sister-in-law, and I turned to follow them. “Well,” I said to Jane. “I’m going to see Jesus.”
It was the only thing I wanted to see that first time around. I mean, a statue of Jesus twenty feet under water is a pretty once-in-a-lifetime thing. It was pretty much as cool – and as creepy – as this photograph shows it to be. After that, I even looked at the coral and fish. I stayed in the water the entire alloted time, and I didn’t panic once. By the end I thought I even wanted to see one of the nurse sharks pictured on the what-you-might-see-here cards and which probably started the gradual panic, now that I think about it.
My in-law took friends to Hawaii once, and on the plane one of them said, “If it’s going to crash, I just hope it does it on the way home.” That’s kind of how I felt about sharks once I actually got in the ocean. If it was my time to go that way, at least I’d really enjoyed the ride.
Photo by gergobacsi on Flickr.