Facing a fear of water

I’m not really afraid of heights, and I have no more than an average fear of spiders, but one thing that has always scared me more than it really should is the ocean. For one, I’m not a very confident swimmer despite years of swimming lessons, and for another, there’s something spooky about a giant mass of endless water. It looks like endless nothingness, but cloaks a countless array of creatures that are, in my opinion, no less terrifying than the monsters in story-books. Have you seen sea urchins?! In Malaysia their spikes are as long knitting needles and when a friend stepped on one not two feet away from where I was swimming, it was enough to scare me out of the ocean for the rest of the day. A local’s quick remedy of lime juice and the whack of a shoe to the wound offered only a little encouragement to an experience that otherwise served as a new reason to fear the waters of the ocean.

This fear of the ocean and the creatures that lurk within serve as an excuse to ask for a little pat on the back for my accomplishment this week. In Guam’s Tumon Bay I had my third or fourth experience snorkeling, and my first experience snorkeling without snorkel gear. Let me explain. We accidentally left Thailand with a friend’s pair of goggles still in Drew’s pocket. The friend told us we could just return the goggles the next time we crossed paths, so until then, we had one pair of goggles to use as we travel from beach to beach. Then, a few days ago, a pair of small goggles floated right by the shallow little area where we were swimming in Tumon bay. I asked the surrounding swimmers if the goggles were theirs, but no owner could be found. In beach culture, such a find means you’ve just scored a free pair of goggles. Even the lifeguard on duty agreed that if no one around claimed them, a find like that could be yours. We had been searching for a cheap pair of snorkeling sets in the thrift stores here in Guam, but had come up with nothing. Scoring this second set of goggles felt like great luck. So without flippers and without snorkel pipes, we took to exploring the crystal clear waters around us.
Much of the waters of Tumon bay are shallow enough for us to be able to stand up in, but the coral stretches throughout the entire bay, beyond the shallowest parts. I’m not used to spending much time in water deeper than I am tall, but the goggles provided a beautiful underwater display that not only distracted me from fears, but also put to rest any suspicions of frightening things lurking underneath the water. There were definitely creatures under the surface, but looking them in the face, so to speak, made these brightly colored fish less frightening. I spent a few moments floating on my stomach, gazing at the tropical fish who nibbled about the coral, then rose my head to tread in the calm waters. It was the perfect environment to build my confidence. Calm. Clear. Beautiful. And occasionally shallow enough to touch my feet to the ocean floor and give my working muscles a break. We swam like this for hours, spending quite a bit of this time in the deeper waters swimming, floating, or treading water. For someone who had never gone longer than a minute or two treading water before, this was a huge confidence boost.

Unfortunately, the rule of “finders keepers” on the beach can both giveth and taketh away. So after this confidence-boosting experience enjoying the water for hours, we somehow lost our friend’s goggles. They must have fallen out of Drew’s pocket on our walk back to the car, and in the hour it took us to realize they were missing, someone else scored a free pair of goggles. We asked the life guards if they had found a pair but they said they hadn’t. Then, they proceeded to reawaken my fear of the ocean, telling us which of the fish we had just seen are “biters” and which are not.
Two steps forward, one step back. Gain some confidence, lose some confidence. Gain a pair of goggles, lose a pair of goggles.

I guess it’s only fair, and in the end, it’s still good fortune that for one day we had two pairs of goggles to experiment with. Maybe I need to ease into this new-found appreciation for ocean exploration anyway.

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