I wrote text for this column last night. Then, with one thoughtless keystroke, it was gone. I wrote a note to the production manager: “I lost everything.” Then I crumpled up the note, tossed it in recycling and went to bed. I’m a bit more philosophical about loss, after a recent swim with mortality.
It started as a lark — a visit to the psychic fair one Saturday at Dancing Cranes. A reading with Lady Jill. “You are traveling to water,” was the very first thing she said.
No, I assured her. No plans to travel anywhere, no desire to leave home, no way. She was clear. I was, in opposition, equally clear. She said other things of relevance. I forgot about “traveling to water.”
That very night, a friend showed up. “Come to Los Cabos with me,” he said. Within 10 minutes, I had my flight. A four-day lark. Two 34-year-old guys and me. Camping on the beach. Why would I say no? Coincidentally, Cabos was “near water.”
It was fun from the get-go. Wandering the beach with my two charming companions, winning a dance contest at a seaside bar, swimming in the rain with my cell phone (funny, but not so smart), eating good food—that was just the first 12 hours. I grinned my ears off.
That night I dreamed I tried to open my eyes, but the light was so bright, I couldn’t.
We drove up the coast and joined some friends at their little camp. They snorkeled. I explored tidepools of black crabs. That night, the most fluent among us bought fresh-caught pierna from the men at the fishing camp nearby, and cooked it over an open fire. Later I dreamed again of a light so bright I couldn’t open my eyes. I also tried to open a door that wouldn’t budge.
It was windy on Wednesday, the New Moon; I was born on a new moon. That’s CATALYST’s corporate name, too. We went snorkeling. I couldn’t find my own mask before leaving home, so rented one from a little beach place there.
The mouthpiece felt small, as if were meant for a child, but the mask fit well enough. I found a nearby coral reef. It was a rather pitiful thing, but the fish were cheerful so I enjoyed myself for a while, then decided to head back to land.
The guys swam by and said the reefs farther out were better. I followed them. The fact that I was seriously their senior did not cross my mind—nor that my slacker lifestyle was no match for their strong, mountain-climbing muscles.
I remember snorkeling in Mexico in the ’80s and ’90s, and seeing breathtaking beauty. Here, the coral was broken and colorless. I remembered hearing about hurricane damage and ocean acidification. I felt grief as I’ve rarely felt it, the transitory nature of all things, inevitable loss.
In retrospect, I don’t think I got to the place the guys were referring to. At any rate, I felt uneasy, and let my companions know I was heading back to shore.
Soon I realized I was in way over my head, figuratively and literally. I was exhausted; maybe I was hyperventilating. Choppy waves knocked the snorkel sideways. I reinserted it, but still could not get enough air. No amount of effort got me closer to shore. I panicked. I yelled for help, then realized no one could possibly hear me.
This is it, I thought for the first time in my life. I am going to run out of oxygen and die right here, today. I thought of distraught family, shocked friends. Bad Facebook posts. That weighed me down more: guilt, horror and and embarrassment. I was mortified.
I also felt immense gratitude for the National Geographic Society, for all the beauty in the world it had documented so many treasures that will one day pass. I felt the relentless, heartless power of the ocean. Ruled by tides, the ocean does what it does. Praying for the ocean to relent is like talking to a jackhammer on autopilot. No amount of learned helplessness would help me now. I had to save myself.
The mortal embarrassment of looming death kicked me into fighting gear—a gear I didn’t even know I had. Or perhaps I simply allowed for a moment of sanity. At any rate, I ripped off the mask, rolled onto my back and kicked and kicked. Periodically I looked over my shoulder to see the slightest progress. Eventually I collapsed on the shore, and lay there, panting, for a long time.
That night we ate red snapper cooked over a perfectly built fire. I was outstandingly useless to everyone the entire trip, except to help fold the tinfoil on the fish and help win five margaritas in a dance contest. I’m okay with this. At least I was bountiful in my heartfelt praise and gratitude for my stellar companions.
We said our goodbyes. They flew on to Monterey for a climbing excursion. I flew back to Salt Lake. And now I am philosophical about things like computers bombing in the night.
One thing left to do: Contact Lady Jill and ask her—if I had not been so emphatic about not traveling “to water,” what else would she have told me? Would it echo the two dreams, about bright light and closed doors?
It was also a Giant Note to Self: Don’t rest on laurels. Move that body. Your life may someday depend on it.
Greta Belanger deJong is the editor & publisher of CATALYST. Greta@CatalystMagazine.net