Once Upon a Time: A Year Later

Our eyes protruded in a naive way. We swayed together, knocking into each other awkwardly as we boarded the boat that would start our day in adventure. We left the bay where the fishing boats were docked and made our way into the pelagic zone of the ocean off the coast of the North Shore of Oahu. The blue Hawaiian waters encompassed the small craft that had started to excel past the shoreline and into the waters.

The two friends I had alongside stared onward and intensely at the woman we had met upon hopping onto the vessel. She excitedly waved us closer and introduced herself. Her small, tanned hands held lightly onto a plastic, toy shark she danced through the air in our direction.  Her confident smile glistened in the sunlight that casted warmly on our bodies as she hurriedly detailed on every nitty gritty aspect of shark anatomy and the way in which they act. Ocean, as she was aptly named, gave us pointers on the right way to interact with the one thing the majority of this world was fearful of when it came to the giant, open waters that engulfed the shorelines of every continent. Sharks.

But where was the cage? I wondered this in my head for the tenth time since realizing the boat was not clad with the metal cage that I had thought would be present to safely house my body upon plummeting into the ocean water. There was no time to worry about such a thing, I had just been informed. Worrying, anxiety, fear, all the things that would increase one’s heartbeat to race, could and would be sensed by the sharks that we were about to flop into the water with. I fully turned my body to face my friends, who sat hunched over and slightly intoxicated with fear. Their arched-eyebrow gaze met mine and our eyes widened. What were we to do?

Juan, the other half of One Ocean Diving, the shark conservation & education project that he led with Ocean in Hawaii, looked back at us from the steering wheel and shut the engine off.  As he prepped for guiding us through the snorkel trip, the boat continued to rock in the wake of the deep blue waters. The silence, my inability to find the words or questions that I so achingly wanted to spit out, thrashed blankly into the waves.

I fumbled with my snorkeling gear as I realized there was no turning back, no running out of the situation which we had found ourselves in. The event was solidified. The action would take place. We would slide into the water where countless shark fins were gliding through the water. Retreating was the option I would regret, the option I wouldn’t allow myself to choose. I abandoned any memories that were stored in my mind from the years I had spent saturating under the Shark Week filled television screens from my youth. I successfully feigned any sort of fearlessness, my fraudulent emotions tricking my mind as well. Suddenly, I adjusted my posture, waiting with confidence, my eyes fell with ease to the depths of the waters that enveloped the island I was calling home.

Our leaders scrambled over every inch of the craft, double checking the circumstances we were diving into. We stood there together in a line, trembling less than when we had initially boarded, looking at each other for a hint as to who would take the first leap in. Ocean sent us a dashing smile with reports that no tiger sharks were currently present, which meant the waters were cleared and awaiting our entrance.

The largely sarcastic part of my character thought, “Oh joy.”

We didn’t let a moment pass, a chance to think about what we were doing. We hopped the ship, in the most literal way. Our fears? They were left behind. Any sense of timid nature? It had exited our bodies as soon as we were fully immersed into the deep ocean blue.

I felt reborn. I felt a sense of freedom from a fear that had caused me to refrain from fully enjoying one of the things I loved most on this planet, the ocean. Oh what a feeling that was – to make eye contact with the creature that made headlines. A creature that was demonized and plagued with some of the worst publicity something non-human could ever achieve.

It was a bliss I never knew before. A hauntingly euphoric moment that I assume every person who seeks adventure chases.

I felt equal in their presence, my existence respected. They swam in all directions; near, far, above, below. I steadied my breathing, as I assessed the situation – finding everything to be wildly calming, an organic dance with nature. Over a dozen surrounded us, gliding in and out of each other, circling in a calm rhapsody. The three of us stayed together, balled bodies trailing our guide. We swam alongside the majestic creatures who allowed us to float alongside in their territory, peacefully. The experience was mystifying. The experience enraptured my heart. The experience further stoked my passion of the sea and its life.

In reflection, I saw this instance was equal to every other fear in life which you desperately wish to conquer. You must understand the fear. You must have a willingness to overcome it. You must accept the vulnerability of succumbing to a possible danger.

You must be willing to jump in head first while keeping your eyes open, because it’s there, in the middle of perceived chaos, that you’ll gain the ability to discover some of the worlds most beautiful things.

Written December 2014
Kailua, Oahu, Hawaii
Angelica Merritt

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