It’s obvious from my whale shark experience at the Georgia Aquarium that I have a great fear of encounters with marine life. When I can overcome that fear, I see it as one of the most naturally beautiful events that humans can experience. Today, at Castaway Island in Fiji, I was able to see past the fear and enjoy a unique encounter.
Our guide, Jerry, took us by boat to a reef that lies about 5 minutes away from Castaway Island. I tried to relax during the ride but I was letting fear get the best of me; I considered staying on the boat.
My friends slid on their gear and prepared their GoPros with such casual ease that they made it seem natural. Jerry could tell that I was about to back out and he offered to swim with me. Still nervous, I agreed because I didn’t want to miss such an amazing opportunity.
As we swam through the water, I was timid and stayed so close that I could reach out and touch Jerry at any point. When the first school of fish approached, I was scared. I feel no shame in my fears and I try to embrace them when possible. I took comfort in his presence and when he reached out for my hand I knew I could go on. Fijians have a caring, supportive demeanor that surpasses anything I’ve witnessed in life; Jerry was a perfect example.
We watched several tropical fish weave in and out of the coral and they paid no attention to us. I was confident enough to let go of Jerry’s hand and swim on my own for a few minutes.
I was enjoying the immersion into a new world.
Then, as if to bring me back to reality and give me the ultimate gut check, a saw it… gracefully swimming below me was a shark. I froze as it moved beneath. It wasn’t close enough to reach and it didn’t swim in my direction. When it was out of sight, I asked to return to the boat.
Without judgement, Jerry swam next to me and stayed at my side. Rather than making me feel irrational or silly, he reached for my hand again and guided me back to the boat.
Many of you might have welcomed the experience and hoped for more but for today, I’m proud got in the water in the first place and even more proud that I didn’t have a panic attack when I saw a shark in open waters.
Maybe next time I will get a little bit closer.