I have only one thing to do and that’s to be the wave that I am and then sink back into the ocean.
Sink back into the ocean.
Sink back into the ocean.
–Fiona Apple. Theme from “The Affair”
I know where my body is at the moment. I’m sitting on the sandy floor of a lagoon. It’s quiet down here. The only sound is the rush of air through my regulator when I inhale and the burble and gurgle of the bubbles that rise past my face mask with each exhalation.
Without question, this is where my body is. But, my mind is in a different place, not unlike this–and it’s 33 years ago. I say a prayer to Poseidon that what happened to me then, won’t happen today. I say another, stronger prayer, more of a plea, to Neptune for I do not want to be green again.
It was 1982 and I was teaching in Connecticut. I found out about Scuba classes being offered at the Norwalk YMCA and being in the youthful frame of mind of wanting to try everything, I signed up for the course. It was to be a step, a tiny step, in being a Renaissance Man. I desired to know a little something about a lot of things.
I passed the written test. The next step was to pass an “open water” check. That was a real dive in real-world water, in my case, Long Island Sound.
To make a very long and distasteful story short, I failed this part. I never completed my certification. The irony is that my mistake (and I made a capital one) was failing to remember the first thing one must do when you tumble backward from the boat. I got the principle, I just didn’t act fast enough. To equalize the pressure, I had to pinch my nose and swallow as soon as I felt pressure on my ears. I waited a micro-second too long.
Too late. The damage was done.
I was fine while I probed about in the murky water of the Sound. It was when my instructor and I surfaced and sat on a rock pile that had a small light on it. With alarming casualness, he said that I was bleeding from my nose…and my ears. I had ruptured capillaries in my middle ear. Blood was flowing into the little chambers of my ear. We inflated our vests and swam back to the boat. Once aboard, I began a descent into a hell I had never known. There was hardly any pain. It was the spinning of the world around me. It was the nausea. It was the peculiar shade of green that made me blend in with certain species of algae. And, it was the vomiting, the spectacular vomiting that followed that made my day. The term “projectile” doesn’t quite tell the whole story. Let’s just say that the already polluted Long Island Sound was diluting the remains of the last seven meals I had eaten.
No, on this day, in a green lagoon outside San Juan, that misadventure was not going to be repeated. I took care to pinch and swallow often. It worked. No blood. No problems.
This time, however, I chose a relatively new version of scuba diving. Instead of wearing a tank on my back, my source of air was on a small raft 15′ above me. My instructor was in full scuba gear. What I was doing was snubaing. I had a regulator and mask (fins, of course) but I was tethered to the raft. In this way, I could stay submerged for an hour or more.
So, here I sit in the sand. Watching the fish and listening to my exhaled bubbles. My instructor was just ahead of me, lost in a cloud of stirred up sand. I didn’t care. I wanted to be alone for a few minutes. I think he knew that.
I thought about my immediate environment. I was here where it all began for life on earth..in the sea. But, I had skipped several hundred million years ahead of the fish that surrounded me. I was not a mass of proteins and amino acids in the Pre-Cambrian sea. But I was back where I came from..so long ago.
It was a nice homecoming.
My instructor finds me and we swim off to find what sea life awaits us. A small fish with yellow stripes approaches me, then another. Soon, I’m nearly invisible, wrapped in a cyclone of fish bold enough to stare me in the eye through my face mask.
Eye contact between different species can be very interesting.
Terrance, the instructor, hands me a spider-like sea star. It crawls over my hand and then drops off to scurry along the bottom. There’s a flounder. Or maybe it’s just shifting sand? No, I see a flat fish with two eyes on the same side of the body (how that happens is another story).
There’s a damsel fish. Here’s a sea urchin. Down on the reef is an anemone.
After an hour, I begin to feel chilled so I signal to Terrance that maybe it is time to go up. He agrees.
But, I really don’t want to leave this new world yet. This environment of color, subtle movement and shifting sands.
I knew we really weren’t meant to be invading this place. It belongs to other living beings, but they tolerate us and somehow, I feel welcomed. In their tiny nerve centers, they know we’re all connected, somehow. I know it and I’m sure that, on some level, all the life down here knows it.
Once upon a time, we were all one massive unit of life. But, one bundle of DNA went to the dry land and the other stayed behind.
So, we left the sea and took to the rocks and soil and made our homes. Some of us are in flight much of the time. Some cling to a tree trunk or grow beneath a rotting log. Some slither into dark holes and have forked tongues. Some plow our fields and others sleep on our laps at nap time.
And, some of us build condos on the beaches and dump junk into springs. The four-inch fish that looked me in the eye thirty minutes ago, is somehow feeling the effects of something done off the coast of Maine or in the Sea of Cortez.
We have done an excellent job of destroying our nursery..our birthing room.
We live, love and die. We’re so important.
And, the life around me swims, mates and looks for food. I look one last time into the eyes of a small fish. It has done nothing to harm my world. Yet, five minutes after I remove my gear and pay my fees, I’ll do something to denigrate life in the water behind me.
It may be as simple as stepping on an ant.
I want to sink back into the ocean.