I have an unreasonable fear of escalators. There is a plausible explanation for it, starting back in the ‘70’s when I fell on one of the contraptions wearing platform shoes and a mini-skirt. But my nervousness has escalated through the years to the point I often seek out elevators and stairs even when it’s exponentially inconvenient.
During our recent trip through Galveston, I bought a little compilation of nuggets of encouragement titled Dare to Believe.* The page that sold me reads, “Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.” It made me think of my battle with escalator panic.
On the way to Honduras a couple of nights later, sleepless before my first attempt at snorkeling, I whispered, “There can be no courage unless you’re scared. Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. Tomorrow, I get to exercise courage.”
Riding on a lovely catamaran, sitting in the tropical sun and enjoying the coastline view, I wasn’t particularly nervous as we sailed out to the reef. There were life jackets. I could always stay near the boat if I was frightened.
The crew distributed the snorkeling tube and mask sets. I had to ask if I was to put the whole thing in my mouth. I had to have help untangling the goggles from my ponytail. I practiced breathing and found out the nose gizmo is designed to prevent one from breathing through her nostrils and force one to breathe through the tube. I made sure my flippers fit. I was scared.
The divers split us into the novice group and the more experienced. Standing at the back of the boat, watching my husband splash into the ocean, I nearly panicked. “I need to go in slowly,” I pleaded with the soft-eyed Honduran captain.
He suggested I sit down and jump from a lesser height. I tried. The terror wouldn’t leave me. “Can I use the ladder?”
I thought I was going to have to stay on the catamaran with the tall dude in the cowboy hat who said he came for the sailboat ride.
I shakily eased down the ladder but when I found myself bobbing around in four-foot swells, I very nearly climbed back up.
I forgot all about my courage quote. I remembered I had traveled three days to get here and paid a ridiculous amount of money to snorkel in clear Caribbean waters. I told myself that I was physically able to do this if I could just stop the panic.
I put the tube in my mouth and breathed out. The nose cup pinched shut when I tried to breathe in; I panicked and pulled the thing out, gasping. The life vest flipped me onto my back and a wave washed over me. I sputtered and re-inserted the snorkel tube.
In, out, in, out, I practiced. I kicked my flippers and swam with my head up and arms straight in front of me. When I tried to put my face down, water fogged my mask and gurgled in my ears.
In, out, in, out, the snorkel was working. I tried again to put my head down. Fighting the life vest, the only way I could stay on my belly was to keep kicking, arch my back, extend my arms and keep my face in the water. I began to see things.
A blue fish swam by, then a yellow one. Through the clear, green water, I saw the ocean floor and mounds of coral. I was snorkeling! On a reef! Head up, snorkel out, I looked for someone to tell. “I…oh…Daniel!” The ocean filled my mouth. I spit it out, reinserted the tube and put my face down to look some more. I would have to wait to share my excitement.
Through my mask, I watched the diver snap photos of creatures on the bottom of the ocean twenty feet below me. I saw fishes galore. I kicked and swam, full of the wonder and joy of being someplace and doing a thing I’d never imagined I’d do.
The diver brought us a sand dollar from the bottom and passed it around for all to examine. Okay, it was a skeleton, but it was a first for me and I was thrilled.
For forty-five minutes I snorkeled, swimming at the head of the class. I was bobbing around in the ocean, for Pete’s sake! I can’t swim!
Suddenly my air tube was giving me water instead of air. I held my breath while I tried to decide what to do. I put my head up, pulled the tube out and caught my breath. The life jacket flipped me over and the ocean came in. I stopped breathing, bobbed up and gulped air.
I learned to blow out hard to clear the snorkel but each time it filled with water I was compelled to gulp a small mouthful of salt water. I wondered if that was acceptable. My husband saw my distress and asked if I was okay.
“Yes,” I answered, and stuck the tube back in. It filled with water again.
“No, I think I’m tired,” I sputtered. “I keep getting water.” I raised my hand for the man in the kayak who was supposed to tow distressed swimmers back to the catamaran.
Daniel was at my side in a second. “Grab my shoulder, baby.”
Both of us gasping for air, both of us tired, it was a very long swim back to that distant boat, then another seventy feet around to the back. I was so glad to see my ladder! Rubber-legged, covered with sticky salt and bedraggled, I couldn’t stop grinning as I wobbled to safety.
The rest of the group filtered in right behind us. Talking and laughing and sharing lunch on board the big boat, everyone had a wonderful adventure. Even the cowboy seemed to have a good time by osmosis.
I am so glad I overcame my fear, though I didn’t feel a bit courageous out there in the deep blue water. I can’t wait to try this out on the next escalator.