The water comes up fast, and I know I can’t hold on.
Then… I can only describe him as an apparition – an angel – a man I’d never seen before and would never see again floats over to me.
“Relax. You can float.”
I stop my flailing. Breathe through the feeling of panic. In and out, just the lapping of sparkly seawater around me, calming me.
And… wow. I can.
I was reminded recently of this moment, which happened when I was in my twenties when I was on my first Caribbean vacation. It was the first time I went snorkeling. I grew up a land-locked and not too great a swimmer. From the moment I hit the ocean I knew I was no match for it. I tried to fight it. The harder I paddled, the more I sank. I tried, tensing, flailing, short of breath, sure my mask must be blocked. Something about the mouth breathing felt so disconcerting and so scary that I was sure, irrationally, for a moment, that I was going under.
The help from a stranger, who must have seen me splashing, panicking, and floated over to soothe me, has always stayed with me. It became a sort of life lesson that has served me well over and over again since it happened. Something about relaxing, trusting, believing you’re more buoyant than think you are. I’ve reminded myself of it in crisis after crisis. “Relax. You can float.”
When I got back on the catamaran after an amazing few hours of feeling at one with the green sea turtles, I wanted to find him to thank him, but I never could. A part of me has grown to believe that he was a snorkel fairy sent to teach me to love something wonderful.
A few years ago, I went snorkeling again in that same spot by St. Thomas. After a 40-minute catamaran ride, there I was again all those years later. All that was left was to jump in the impossibly vast sea and trust I would float.
I let everyone go ahead of me.
The tan, buff woman assisting us said, “You’re nervous?”
“A little bit.”
“Relax,” she said. “You can float.”
I smiled. I suppose it’s a thing you say to anxious snorkelers wearing inflatable vests.
This time, there was no flailing, no fear of drowning. I jumped in and went right for the reef, my fear forgotten the minute my body splashed into the heavenly turquoise water. Because, yes, I can float. And this time I knew it.