Speaking of forgetting, last night we were sitting in bed, scrolling through Netflix, as you do, and Hunky ran across a new BBC documentary. Sharks. I cannot overemphasize how much I love sharks. Jaws is my secret favorite movie. For my 34th birthday, Hunky gave me an hour in the shark tank at Sea World for my birthday, arguably the greatest gift ever. When we still had cable, I treated Shark Week like a liturgical holy week.
Sadly, it’s been awhile since I watched or listened or paid attention to anything, really, about sharks. If asked, I will passionately exclaim, I LOVE SHARKS! And I’ll be telling the truth, even if my passion is more dry and dusty ancient knowledge than hands on, heart on, messy, wet, toothsome experience.
But last night, I remembered. As I watched the ragged-tooth shark on my TV screen, I remembered, ghostly forms swimming towards me in a shark cage. Oxygen sighed loudly in my ears as my very breath flowed into me, rather than being excessively available. I remembered the echoing, ghostly quiet as I watched a world in which I was completely foreign carrying on beneath and around me, entranced as living dinosaurs examined me, possibly a bit more hungrily than I examined them.
I can’t remember the last time I experienced something so visceral and full of wonder.
In the safety of my bedroom, I listened to the narrator talk about eons of time, 400 million years, as light slanted through the water and mysterious, alien landscapes burst forth on screen. Not too long ago, I fought so hard against those numbers, needing to be certain, desperate to be right. I’m not that person anymore, but stepping away from certainty and those prescribed faith tracks is a bit like stepping into a cage over shark infested water.
More than a few decades ago, I earned my scuba license in a highly-chlorinated, basement, college swimming pool. The highlight of this experience would be diving the Crystal River during a weekend trip to Florida. I remember squeezing into my farmer johns and lowering myself into the water, spitting into my mask and finally, adjusting the regulator, the thing tethering me to life when I enter the unknown.
The first time you lower yourself into the water you think, I can’t believe all of this is here, all the time. All this beauty and miracle going on all around me, and I didn’t even know it. The next thing you think is Breathe. Don’t forget to breathe. Keep breathing. In and out. Because while you are swept up in this utterly novel and foreign universe, your mind is yelling. You are in a place you don’t belong and cannot survive. It’s desperately trying to convince you if you breathe in, you will die.
During this dive in the Crystal River an alligator gar decided he wanted my mask for himself. He tried to take it from my face using only his teeth. In the moment I was terrified. Now I remember it as one of the most thrilling and unexpected moments in my life.
Faith is like this sometimes, too, entirely beautiful and safe inside the boat. You can go places you’ve never been and see things you’ve never seen before. It’s all completely safe as long as you stay inside the boat. But underneath is completely different, beautiful and ancient, and mostly hidden beneath the surface. Always there, as real as air and sunlight and flotation devices in case of emergency. We can enter into it if we wish and see other, deeper things we’ve never seen. It feels lonely at first, but soon hosts of living creatures swim around us, as curious of us as we are of them. Some of them, maybe, a little dangerous.
It’s an experience both visceral and full of wonder. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s ok to breathe.