Facing Fears

We all have fears. JFK said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” These last few days I have been addressing a nearly lifelong fear of drowning. At 8 years old, I fell through the ice on a gravel pit pond. I remember it vividly. The snow was deeper than I was tall. The temperature was literally less than -20*F. My friends and I bundled up for Winter adventure at the gravel pit. I could go on about the things we did, but not this blog. Suffice to say we always wanted to cross that lake.  Surely it was frozen at his point. I had little if any fear. Of course, as always, I would lead the expedition because the others had fear, and rightfully so (we were a band of young daredevils). About halfway across, the ice broke. I plummeted in slow motion into the water that was well over my head. I still remember the blue ring of light from the hole. All else was grey and black. I could feel the water soaking my clothes and pulling me under more. I swam up with all my strength to the blue ring. I popped back through the hole. My friends were there with broken branches from our daredevil sledding. I grabbed on and they pulled me out to the thicker ice. My clothes began to freeze. We quickly trekked to my house, and my father tended to me there. And it was that day that fear itself was planted.
I have swam my whole life. Usually by jumping off something high above the water, or swinging off a rope. But, that fear was always there. I had an incident in water just before I turned 19. I swam less and less after that. Only jumping or water skiing could really get me in anything over my head. I snorkeled with a vest a few years ago. I went surfing a few months ago. These things somewhat addressed the fear. I faced it. That is not to say I conquered it. It was standing right there on that surfboard with me.
So this time, I have set out to conquer it; to slay the Dragon. I am training for my open water scuba diving certification. I am halfway there. Two of 4 open water dives complete today. The first one, a dive from shore to depth went fine. My instructor was pleased and so was I. It was amazing and beautiful, serene and surreal. I felt great. But, I knew that Dragon was not dead. He was injured and bleeding, but not dead.
A good lunch and a short nap, and it was time for dive #2. We got in the boat and headed for open water. As the island diminished behind us, the Dragon tapped me on the shoulder. I was not surprised. I knew he was there the whole time. A pre-dive buddy check, a quick how-to, and I was rolling off the boat backwards into over 40 feet of water without a pedestal anywhere. That Dragon was breathing fire now. Some deep slow breaths and calming words from my instructor brought me around to the task at hand. We didn’t come out to bob on the surface. We came to dive.
Down we went, forty feet. The Dragon was drowning. But, he wasn’t going down without a fight. He reared his ugly head. I looked up and saw the blue ring. I couldn’t get enough air. I signaled to go up. My instructor gave me the OK? signal. I shook my head ‘no’. The Dragon was standing on my head crushing me with visions of the blue ring and questions of why I was there, and spears of self doubt. The water seemed so heavy. I was breathing too shallow. I convinced myself I had an equipment failure. I had every weapon of knowledge, and the Dragon laughed. I ditched those weapons and headed for the surface, albeit too fast. My instructor stayed with me. We broke the surface to the air. My mouth was clenched to the regulator. I was still breathing through it. There was nothing wrong with my equipment.
My instructor asked me what was wrong. I told him fear was there. He scolded me for the fast ascent. I had endangered him and myself. He talked me through the fear. He reminded me of my successful dive earlier that day. It was time to carry on or get in the boat and call it quits. Not my style, time for another round with the Dragon. We made a slow descent. My instructor aware of, and guiding my breath. We got down to 30-something feet. “OK?” was the signal. “OK”, I signaled back. Instead of doing the tests right away, we took a leisurely swim. We went over the coral and vegetation to the next sandy bottom. I was ready to beat the Dragon this round. I flooded my mask and cleared it twice. I pulled my air regulator from my own mouth and threw it behind me. And then calmly, with textbook style, I recovered it. I purged it with my own fire-breathing Dragon breath, and began breathing underwater again. I was thrilled. And, my instructor was  happy and congratulatory. Finally, we simulated out of air and air sharing return to surface. Simulated indeed. We were still on the bottom with air for about 30 more minutes of exploring the reef. The fish welcomed us. The sea fans waved like angel wings. I looked around 360*. The Dragon was gone for now. I played with fine tuning buoyancy with my lung capacity. We practiced hand signals and enjoyed the scenery until my air was low.
The last exercise before surfacing was an out of air, buddy assisted, alternate air ascent, slowly to the surface. I was disappointed the time had went by so fast. I was happy the Dragon was down, and that I was loading into the boat without him.
Tomorrow is the last confined dive, and 2 more open water dives. If I beat the Dragon those 3 rounds,  I will surely ace the certifying written test.
I now know that in the end, I do not have to slay the Dragon. All have to do is not fear him. JFK didn’t say, “Have no fear.” He told us to not fear the Dragon. That is what will get ya. I hear ya, Jack. And your words will be on the ocean floor with me tomorrow.

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So, today was a beautiful day. Rain clouds circled the local cayes all day. But the Sun prevailed, and visibility at 60ft below was promising to be clear. I had breakfast and went over my studies with my instructor. Then some yoga, and a short meditation. It was time to dive again. Out into the open waters to Stovepipe reef. It was quite fitting, and comforting, that Captain Jack, a local fisherman was at the helm. Again in the choppy waters I sparred with the Dragon, all the way to sea floor. I touched bottom and demonstrated skills for my instructor. I did not fear the fear. President Jack’s words were with me. I knew at that moment that there were hundreds of people all over the world safely scuba diving. I was safely scuba diving too. All of our equipment checked out fine. We had plenty of air. I had a great instructor as my dive buddy. And he was relaxed and smiling. Like all the other skills he taught me, I mimicked those.  The Dragon was tamed. I need not slay him. I put him on the leash that I had been on.
Lunch, nap, yoga, meditation and it was time to dive again. I was ready. We did skills again, and added navigation with a compass. Then it was tour time. It was my time. I was free and breathing in calm clear waters 60 feet under blue choppy seas. I was better at controlling my buoyancy. We got close to the coral teeming with fish, lobsters, crab, sponges, and surreal vegetation. I could see the blue ring. It was OK. Captain Jack was up there waiting, just following our bubbles. I could have stayed down for another hour, but conserving air will be an acquired skill on my next dives. I wonder if the Dragon needs a wet suit. I have mixed feelings about pets wearing clothes.

Oh yeah, Bob Marley was right. I saw theses 3 little birds when I first got here. And I knew, “Every lit’l ting is gonna be all right” I took this picture to remind me.

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