I was on my way…

I was on my way to saying no thanks. In fact I had said “no thanks, I would rather just stay in the house.” I would really be perfectly fine if Roberto went by himself. He looked at me questioningly, hesitated, then picked up the phone and dialed.

“Yes. I’d like to make a reservation to go on your snorkeling trip – at night – the one with the manta rays.” Pause. “Um. How about tomorrow?” Pause  “Good. That’s great.” Pause “4:30? Yes, I know where that is. And do you provide wetsuits and gear and everything?” Pause  “Sounds good. Here’s the credit card number.” He read the card number, expiration date, etc. another pause, and then he said, “Just one – I just need one reservation.”

“Wait” I shouted across the room. “I want to go, too!” I realized that if he went without me and came back so excited about some adventure he’d had, I would feel bad. Worse, I would feel like a wimp. I am a happy, comfortable swimmer and love the ocean. I just don’t want to see what’s down there. It’s all too scary, and the thought of looking down there at night just multiplied the fear factor.

“Just a minute, please,” and Roberto covered the receiver with his hand. “You don’t have to, really. If you don’t want to it’s ok –“

“No! Get two tickets. I want to go.”

And so I did.

The boat was noisy and smelled of fuel, but I was encouraged by the crew who were young, jolly, and clearly used to handling all kinds of tourists, all shapes, sizes, and attitudes. It was late afternoon when we arrived at the manta ray feeding grounds and took our first dip. I was determined to be a good sport. I pushed off from the boat and peeked into the water. Nothing remarkable. Then in the distance, I saw a manta ray-shaped thing. I was excited, gurgled through the mask to Roberto to look in that direction and he confirmed it. I stayed out a few more minutes and clambered back onto the boat, well satisfied.

The main event, of course, was snorkeling at night, but I felt sure that I had seen enough, and so I munched on my box dinner relatively anxiety free. With the sun dropping into the sea behind us, a cheery crew member told us a bit about the remarkable manta ray and explained the drill. We –  there were about 8 of us – would get in the water and swim a hundred yards to a spot where our snorkeler wrangler would be waiting with a giant hula hoop floating on top of the water. We would grab onto the hula hoop with one hand and point our flashlights downward into the water. This would create a column of light, which would be matched by the scuba divers already on the bottom about 40 feet down, shining their flashlights up toward us. The column of light would attract the plankton and the mantas would come to dine. We were setting their dinner table for them.

I listened to all this with detached interest. When Jack, one of the crew, said it was time to go in, I said I would be staying on the boat. A grandmother and grandson had already made that decision and I thought they looked like good company.

“Why don’t you want to go?” Jack asked.

“I’m afraid”

“Of what?”

“Of the manta rays. They’re so big.”

“What do you think is going to happen?”

“One might touch me, hit me with his arm – his wing – whatever.”

“And then what would happen?”

“Well, it might flip me up in the air”

“And then what would happen?”

“I might die of a heart attack.”

“Lucy,” he said gently. “You are not going to die of a heart attack or anything else out there.”

I thought for a few seconds. OK, if I wasn’t going to die….how bad could it be? And if I did die, it would all be Jack’s fault. Anxiety rising, I jumped in the water before I could change my mind.

We swam out to the hula hoop and grabbed on. I was next to Roberto, who put his hand over mine reassuringly. I put my head down, let my body float out in back of me and looked down. There were manta rays! They were huge – 14 feet wing spans – they were wheeling and somersaulting under me, sucking up the billions of tiny plankton meals drawn to the light. Their wings were frilly at the edges,  and they glided and swooped from bottom to top in arcs and circles, their mouths like car grills, huge wide slits. They were so graceful, so beautiful, so grand and so natural, weaving in and out, avoiding each other and us, coming close – two feet sometimes, but never touching us.

I was so overwhelmed, I turned to Roberto whose eyes were bugging out of his mask, and got his attention. I gurgled and spluttered and squealed through my snorkel tube in my excitement, and he nodded violently. I stayed there clinging to the hula hoop for a half hour. I can’t explain the depth of the feeling, but I was moved to tears at times…. my own salty tears inside the mask…the ocean outside. They were so beautiful, like ballerinas, huge ballerinas of nature, ocean dwelling acrobats. I felt so lucky to be there, to see this wonder of the planet. I felt so small. It was inspiring, overwhelming. I swam back to the boat a different person.

I had been on my way to fear and dread, and I had found peace, a deep and awesome peace.

22 thoughts on “I was on my way…”

    1. The experience was so powerful and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything, but actually I’m still afraid to peek under the surface.

  1. Engaging story! I’m with you on the ocean. I’m a wimp when it comes to snorkeling. I fear scraping on coral, which I have done and it leaves a horrible rash, I turn or dip my head and get a mouthful of ocean, or end up where I shouldn’t be. Landlubber, that’s me. Grudgingly admit it is beautiful and peaceful when I’m not tense and fearful.

  2. great lovely story Lucy …… I am a total wimp – thank you for taking me into the ‘water world,’ bahozho !!

    1. “Wimp” certainly does not come to mind when I think of you! maybe in the water world, but not on land — you are fearless.

  3. It’s a good story of the triumph of the will, Lucy! I don’t know if I’ve ever encountered a Manta ray, but I have a good sting ray story from way back. My Dad had a small catamaran when we lived in Malaysia in the 1950’s, and we used to sail around some islands of the coast near a place called Pankor Wat. Pankor just had one wooden hotel on it then, with maybe four of five cabins. The sea was azure. One day he and I went out and he left the anchor dangling down, oh, maybe four feet, in the water, in the centre of the boat. A sting ray swam underneath and caught it’s (as you say, arm?) shoulder, whatever, in the anchor and it couldn’t get free. It was BIG. Maybe not as big as a Manta ray – more lethal though. It pulled us out to sea. I remember seeing it swim, it’s ‘wing’ span bigger than the boat. Well, that’s what I recall; I was only about ten at the time! I remember watching the color drain from my father’s face as he tried to take the sail down so that the boat would stabilize. I could tell that he was very frightened; I can’t remember how I felt. We went out for what seemed a long way. I remember better how long it took us to get back after the grand creature managed to free itself. Whew! I don’t think you swim with sting rays, but I don’t know! I wouldn’t, not now!

    1. What an amazing memory, and how interesting that you don’t really remember how you felt, but your father’s fear was loud and clear. You must have had great faith in him, that he would get you through anything.

    1. And I would add to that list — listen to experts. What made the difference to me was how Jack handled my fear, making me play out the fantasy and then telling me that it was, in fact, fantasy, and that he would guarantee I was not going to die. I liked the way he did that — something to remember. He didn’t argue with me, or sympathize with me, or try to cure me — he just offered his expert opinion.

  4. I love the way Jack handled your fears, by making you face them and see how they looked, and I love your excuses, first of just not going, and then not going in, and then not going in, and not going in, until there was really no good reason not to go in. and then, you discovered how much fun it was and the event of a life-time. Just let go of your fears, know that you are protected, and experience some of life. Love the word pictures you paint.

    1. Thank you, Linda. Yes, I am going to try to be my own “Jack” next time I am fearful, and repeat that little reality check for myself.

  5. Lucy, what a great experience and story!!! Our family had a very similar experience on the island of Hawaii. Ours was a helicopter ride where my wife Maggie was truly afraid to fly in the helicopter with thoughts of crashing and dying. Our boys were so wonderful and in harmony explained to her that it would be better for us to be together as a family regardless of what happened. 4 hours later she couldn’t get enough of the beauty of the volcano, massive waterfalls and the untouched parts of the island that no human could experience otherwise. Thank you for sharing you story as you just gave Maggie and I a great memory to share again!!


    1. Wow, can I empathize with Maggie! I’m not sure I could do the helicopter thing…suddenly the ocean looks pretty good!And what a great story. Your boys were like Jack in my story, guiding her to a place that would be so powerful, helping her let go of those fears.

  6. Great story Lucy, ocean dwelling acrobats indeed. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Lucy, Thanks to your encouragement, Amos & I did the night snorkeling while staying in your lovely authentic Hawaiian home on the Big Island. You sneaky woman — you never told me your fears, so I went without a care in the world and found the experience so memorable. The manta rays were beautiful and even seemed (in my imagination) to be saying hello as I tried to mumble hello back with all the snorkeling stuff in my mouth! Thanks and I’m so glad I read about facing your fear — now, not before I went!

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