|A lion fish – as dangerous as it is beautiful.|
Once upon a time, I had just finished up my sophomore year in college. I was relatively depressed. My mom was dead. My sister was on her mission. We had to sell the house I grew up in. And I was forced to sleep on a love seat. In the family room. With zero privacy. Even though there was a perfectly good bedroom that was being used as an office. (Lots of fodder for therapy…)
I realize that this is a lot better than most of the world has it, but this was a rough adjustment for me. I was struggling with my never ending eating issues. I was slightly obsessed with exercising. I was trying to keep my mom’s swim lesson business going from my dad’s backyard both out of a feeling of duty and because I wanted to earn some spending money for clothes and such, but mostly duty. These were not happy times. Mind you, not the worst of times I’d had up to then, but still, they were pretty crappy.
In the midst of my personal hell, my younger brother, who did have his own bedroom because he was still in high school, which apparently means you need a bed or something, was working on his senior project; a particular form of torture meant to keep seniors at my high school engaged through the end of that fourth year. While I had decided to focus mine on sewing, my younger (and wiser) brother had chosen something much more fun. He decided to focus his on scuba diving which included writing a paper about something related (nitrogen levels in blood?) and then getting certified.
Suddenly, there was a little light glowing in the dark depths of my unhappy existence. Somehow I managed convince my dad to pay for me to get scuba certified. I mean, it’s a two person activity and what was Justin going to do without a dive buddy? (My mother taught us well…and my father has a hard time saying no if tears are involved…) So I signed up and suddenly there was some kind of fun happening in my life. For those of you who know me and/or my family, we are all water babies. I’m pretty sure my mom is teaching her grandkids how to swim before they come to this earth. I don’t remember learning to swim because it happened so early in my life. I was on a swim team at the age of four, helping my mother teach lessons at the age of 12, and spent my summers in a bathing suit (sometimes even falling asleep in one). I have loved the water as long as I have been alive, so diving seemed like a very logical thing to take up.
It was also something that I knew my mom would have loved knowing I was doing. Once upon a time, my mom taught a woman at my church how to swim so that she could get scuba certified. Talk about impressive. I mean, going from not even being able to swim to scuba diving as an adult is kind of amazing. Not that scuba diving requires you to be an incredibly strong swimmer, but it does require you to be extremely comfortable in the water.
Back to the point. One of the things I’ve always loved about being in the water is the quiet. Not that swimming itself is quiet–it’s actually quite loud–but underwater, hearing is not easy. Things get muffled. The world (at least for me) becomes very quiet. And quiet was something I needed.
And then there was the freedom I felt while under the water. No need to surface for breath. Flying through kelp forests. Swimming along with schools of fish. Hovering above the sand. No thoughts of how much weight I needed to lose. No concerns about how cute my bathing suit was (in Monterey, where I got certified, it was covered by 14 mm of neoprene). My only concern was making sure I stuck with my dive buddy. That was it. Not worrying about talking to my buddy. Just making sure I could see him and vice versa.
Maybe diving doesn’t appeal to you, but hopefully you can understand why I fell in love with it. It’s not just the experience and all of the amazing things I’ve been able to see. Diving saved me at a point in my life when I needed saving. So, perhaps you can understand why, after four years of not diving, I was so excited for my trip to Okinawa this past weekend. And it did not disappoint. I found this great dive operation with this super nice German dive master who took me out on six fantastic dives. He also found me this lovely little pension (think somewhere between B&B and hostel) to stay at and drove me to and from it each day.
While I was a little nervous about the whole thing, everything I needed to know came right back into my mind. It was just like riding a bike. And suddenly, I was right back in my happy place. So content to be floating over fields of soft corals, swimming through schools of fish, diving into the dark abyss of a hole formed by coral over thousands of years, peaking under over hangs and through tunnels to see what could be seen, and watching a few not-so-nice creatures float by…hoping they wouldn’t come to close. (Or, in the case of the reef shark…stalking it. Sharks aren’t so scary, I promise. At least not little reef sharks.)
And then there was the whale shark…which took the whole diving thing to a totally new level. Awe inspiring doesn’t even begin to describe it. It took my breath away in the best way possible.
Note: all photos are from my dives, but were taking by the lovely Jan of Piranha Divers.