The barracuda was 10 feet away. I saw it move. I saw it see me, or at least I thought it saw me. I saw it open its mouth revealing all of its jagged teeth.
And then it swam away.
You are probably asking why I was in the water with a barracuda. I had the same question when I saw it. I questioned a lot of things, but I learned some too.
I have to blame my children for this experience. Or maybe I should thank them. Months prior to this experience, my family sat around a laptop and chose excursions for the cruise we were going to take. My 8 year old son decided he wanted to snorkel with sharks and stingray. And suddenly we were booked for an excursion in Belize.
There are a few things to consider. The first thing, and perhaps the biggest, is that I cannot swim. I hate the water. I don’t float, I can’t tread water, and would fail that one lap test most pools give kids to swim in the deep end.
Another consideration is that I am deathly afraid of animals that can sting, bite, or otherwise terminate me. But my family didn’t seem to be bothered by that prospect.
The final consideration is that these excursions are not cheap. I have a lot of fears. Wasting hard earned money is one of them.
So there I was in the bluest waters I have ever seen. I was given a life vest, a mask, and a snorkel. Oh, and flippers.
Within minutes, my wife and two children were off the side of the boat and swimming around the largest living reef in the world. I had two choices – I could watch them enjoying life or I could jump in and take a peek at the underwater world they were witnessing.
I chose to jump in. With my flippers.
There’s some security to having your feet on the ground. To be able to navigate with the natural laws of gravity. Of knowing your speed and grace. Of being accustomed to the environment you are in.
Yet there is something stunning and beautiful to be a visitor. To know there are depths that you cannot touch. To know that your strength and size aren’t an asset. To know that you could spend hours and not even scratch the surface of the wonders underneath.
I floated with the grace of a bull in the China Shop of the sea. The fish didn’t seem to mind. Ahead of me, my children swam with grace and wonder. My daughter even shed her life vest at one point (which our guides had instructed us on how to safely do), swam to the floor of the sea and grabbed a shell for a close up inspection. It was amazing.
I caught myself in one of those moments that my mother had been warning me about – I was just watching. I was astonished. I was appreciative. I was proud.
I was watching MY kids and my wife swim and enjoy a world that we could only be visitors in. What I didn’t notice was that I was drifting behind.
Step Into My Office
Fortunately, our guides did notice. One swam up to me, “What do you think of my office?” I didn’t even know how to respond. His office was beautiful and stretched to the horizon.
Suddenly he was waving me in his direction. In a hurry.
Y’all. I’m from the city. We only make that motion when something is free or you are in imminent danger. And since I was guessing that King Triton wasn’t giving away Ariel’s trinkets, I hauled butt over to the guide.
I was expecting that he was going to pull me to the boat, or rescue me, or maybe David Hasselhoff would appear. Instead, he smiled and pointed down.
I dipped my face in the water. Probably about a first down away from me was an Angel Ray. It’s wingspan was equal to or in excess of mine.
I should have peed my pants. I may have and no one would have known. I watched that thing flap and fold and glide. And I looked for my kids. Not because I was afraid, but because I wanted them to see.
As headed back towards the boat, I saw something in the distance. The guide was close by, so I asked him, “What is that thing?” and I pointed.
“That’s a barracuda, my friend.” He laughed. LAUGHED. Stuck his head back in the water and kept swimming.
I stuck my head back in the water and studied the barracuda. It had long sharp teeth. Its body was longish and it seemed fast.
I didn’t know whether to swim fast, stay still, or just float.
I decided to keep looking at it.
Now this goes against everything in my DNA coding, but how many opportunities would I have in BELIZE to stare at a BARRACUDA. I decided to savor it.
And that’s when the lesson sunk in. There are dangerous things in the water. In life. There’s no guarantee that they won’t harm you. The best bet is to stick with those that can help you and not let the possibility of danger prevent you from the observation of beauty.
Imagine if I had stayed on that boat. Yes, my kids might have had pictures. Yes, my family would have had tales. But I would have been feet away from experiencing them for myself. And experiencing it with them.
That barracuda represents a lot of things in life. I’m not there yet, but I’m learning to just keep swimming.