I am not quite sure how I went from reading lazily in the sun to swimming with 20 dolphins in a period of minutes but I know that it happened; and that there are few better ways to exit one year and enter another.
My husband rushed from the water to inform me he’d seen them spinning out there. Way out there. As I hustled with my snorkeling gear he took off in another direction with our son and I realized this would be a solo venture. I am at best, an expert dog paddler and at worst, a non-swimmer. I have been snorkeling a small handful of times and absolutely love it; The sweet peace and beauty of being under water minus the ear, nose, eyes and mouth hassles that instilled a fear of water in me at a young age.
Knowing that I would never make it out far enough to see the dolphins before they spun away, I made the awkward trudge from shore and through shallow water in my flippers. Eventually, a fish-like grace swept over me and I was free. I almost forgot I was searching for dolphins as the cadence of my own breath and the intoxicating variety of fish and color drew me further out. I peeked up periodically to scan the horizon for black fins. There was a kayak in the distance but, surprisingly, no other snorkelers, swimmers or people, for that matter, in sight.
Just as I hit the wall of piercing blue that let me know I’d gone from deep to DEEP I started to hear chirping. And literally “out of the blue” came dolphin after dolphin. There were ten or so directly beneath me. There were five or six off to my right and several more behind me. I felt completely vulnerable. What if they didn’t know I was there? What if they began to toss me around like a toy? What if one of the several clearly protective mothers thought I was a threat? This is not how I had always imagined I would react in the presence of these animals I knew to be supremely peaceful and intuitive. I peeked up again to scan for help should I need it. I was still alone but for the distant Kayak.
Suddenly, a dolphin rose casually up out of the water RIGHT NEXT TO ME. My heart started to beat really fast. Without thinking, I reached my hand out and let it slide along its body as it rotated effortlessly up, forward and down. (In perfect relative elevation, the dressage rider in me noted.) In that moment, I was caught helplessly between fear- of being a dog paddler totally alone in incredibly deep water with animals so unfamiliar- and the exhilaration born from being this close to animals I have so long dreamt of and been fascinated by.
Briefly, I considered hightailing it back to shore as fast as I could go but decided against it when I saw how far out I’d been drawn. Instead, I slowed my breathing, made a conscious decision to be at peace with my fear and let myself just be with the dolphins. After what seemed like ages but was surely just minutes, they twisted, bucked, turned and spun away. I was left with the echoes of their chirping and the reverberations of my own awe. The wind had kicked up and I fought rough water as I headed, disoriented, back to an entirely different beach than the one from which I’d come.
There are so many ways in which this experience embodies, for me, the journey I’ve been on in my life during the last couple of years. We are so often simultaneously drawn by and afraid of the unknown. For many years, I have resisted the whispers calling me toward change; Ignored the chirping and black fins inviting me toward adventure and away from the safety of shore. No more. As I plunge forward, first awkwardly, then with fish-like grace into new and often frightening territory, I will breathe deeply, be at peace with my fear and allow myself to be drawn by dolphins into 2012. Mahalo!