Friday, April 22, 2011
The other day someone said that when people figure out that the diver isn’t going to get eaten by the shark, they stop watching the dive show. Since I do a lot of those show dives where I work, I got a bit of a chill down my spine — not because I am afraid I will really get eaten by a shark, but that seeing me eaten alive is at least a minor motivation of some people to watch.
Just let me say that I am not afraid of our sharks. I have become accustomed to them and know their body language pretty well. I have been diving with these particular sharks some three-hundred times. I have never felt threatened by them — not once. I have been thumped by Permit fish, charged by grouper, the angel fish has bitten me as well as the trigger fish and the spade fish have pulled out my hair, but not once has a shark even looked at me with any interest.
The next time I dove, I did think about it, however. I thought about people wanting to see me get eaten. I climbed down the ladder into the acclimation tank and three sharks swam by me as they were making their loop around the tank. A stingray had settled right under the ladder, so I took a giant step out and over so that I wouldn’t scare her, and just as I did, one of the sand bar sharks swerved out of my way so that we didn’t collide. It didn’t seem interested in biting me. It just wanted to get out of the way, and I was clearly in the way of its greater purpose — swimming to breathe.
It is funny how I used to be afraid of sharks. When I stepped in the ocean, I was sure I was on the shark radar and on the list of what’s for dinner. (Thank you Peter Benchly and Steven Speilberg). The movie Jaws really put sharks in the hot seat and they have suffered mass annihilation for it. I have realized that my fear was very self-centered. I don’t think I register on shark radar. They have more important things to do than worry with the likes of me — like catching smaller prey that they recognize as food, and food that actually tastes good to them.
All my fears center in myself. When fear controls me, there is no room for the presence of a higher power in my life. Sometimes I trick myself out of fear with statistics. For instance, “you are more likely to be struck by lightening than to be bitten by a shark;” or “if you have been bitten by a shark, it is nearly statistically impossible that you will ever be bitten again;” my favorite, however, is “Nearly 80 percent of all statistics are wrong.” Though I know these statistics are probably more fiction than truth, they are tangible concrete things my mind can cling to — kind of like that buoy in the opening scene of Jaws.
When visitors view the sharks swimming by the windows of the tank, there is usually an exclamation of awe, fear, or trepidation but rarely a warm and fuzzy sort of response. I hear visitors exclaim all the time about the puffer fish looking at them. “Oh look, he is looking right at me,” most likely the puffer is looking at something colorful and shiny to chew on. But they do appear to connect. They are cute yet alien and they “look right at you.” Sharks don’t seem to acknowledge you at all. I guess I focus more on the teeth than the eyes when looking at the sharks. When I am in their presence, I seem to be just another obstacle to swim around. When I am having a bad day or feeling very self-conscious, I forget that I am just another obstacle to maneuver around to most people. On a bad day, I think everyone is looking at me, everyone is noticing all of my faults, but I know that is not true — somewhere deep down. Like the sharks, most people swim with another purpose.
It occurred to me that if people want to see the diver get eaten, it is probably because they want to see something that will change their lives. People talk about the dramatic events that they have witnessed and usually the description of the incident is followed by how it changed them. How they were before and how they are now. If it wasn’t for that dramatic incident, they would never have experienced the change. For many, something good comes in spite of the bad.
I think we are all looking for that moment that changes us. That moment where we learn a new truth, but what I sometimes forget is the change is on the inside, and it happened because I was ready for it to happen. The external incident might be the trigger but the real change is inside.
I would like to think that that is what people want. I hope that our fascination with the violent and grotesque is based on our need to see an inner truth about ourselves and not the inner organs of an unfortunate victim (or should I say survivor — that holds more optimism). At least, I hope that is what we want because I trust my friends in the tank will leave all my parts just the way they are.