Yesterday we arrived at the Bight, a cove off Norman Island in the British Virgin Islands. We took the dinghy into the beautiful beach just in front of Pirates Bar, which happened to be closed for the upcoming hurricane season. The beach was still beautiful and we were looking forward to enjoying some R&R in the sunshine and playing in the warm waters.
The only thing that gives me concern in the waters of the BVI is jellyfish. This trip, it seems they decided to come to the BVI during the same time that we did. We saw them on many different islands, and not just the traditional little 3-4” jellyfish, but this time the BVI was plagued with large “Box jellyfish”- some bigger than a foot in diameter. In all my trips here I’ve never heard of or had experience with this kind of jellyfish. I’ve been stung by the little ones and it’s a very painful experience similar to a nasty bee sting. Regardless, we were hoping the jellyfish were swimming elsewhere this afternoon. I really, really don’t like jellyfish. Throughout the week we’d heard stories from the other boaters of people being stung, with nasty consequences including hospital visits. Have I mentioned I don’t like jellyfish?
There were several people hanging out on the pier as we docked the dinghy. One of the gentlemen asked me to talk his wife into getting into the water. It seems that the resident manta ray who lives under the dock was swimming about and she was frightened that it would hurt her. I explained to her that we come there often and this creature was a harmless manta ray, not a stingray. She talked about the tragic death of Steve Irwin with the stingray off the coast of Australia. I tried to explain to her that this was a different species and really was harmless. I invited her to join me in the water, to which she said, “Maybe”.
My husband and I walked down the beach a bit, dropped our towels and dove into the crystal clear blue waters. It was so very beautiful and refreshing. Our new friend watched us swim around for a bit, and then eventually she and her husband joined us in the water. It was the perfect day and the perfect beach for a swim- no jellyfish in sight. We enjoyed a few hours of heaven in the water.
It stuck me that our new friend would have missed this incredible experience because of fear. It made me wonder about my own life and wonder what was my manta ray? What fear is holding me back in areas of my life? What’s lurking underneath my dock that’s keeping me from diving into the beautiful waters of life? What if the things in my life that I believe are stingrays are only manta rays? The only thing that makes them dangerous could be my thoughts and my perception of them. That was something powerful to think about for me.
The next morning as I was still pondering this blog in my mind, we went snorkeling at my very favorite spot in the world. It’s a group of rocks off of Norman Island, called the Indians. We sailed over early in the morning to grab one of the National Park Service mooring balls near the site. My husband didn’t feel like snorkeling so I decided to go alone since this was such a special place and I didn’t want to miss it.
As I was swimming towards the reef, I passed a small jellyfish about 4” in diameter. While I can totally appreciate the incredible beauty of these animals, they freak me out in the water. I immediately turned around and started swimming back to the boat when I realized I’d metaphorically found my “stingray”. I asked myself if I was freaking myself out over one little jellyfish. So, I turned around and determinedly swam back toward the reef. I was still a bit concerned but didn’t want to wimp out and swim for the boat just because my mind was playing head games with me. I don’t want to miss out on any aspect of life because of fear, so I swam on.
As I got to the spot where I remember the best snorkeling of my life, I looked around me. On the bottom of the ocean, just 15 feet below me, was a bright purple blob- one of the biggest jellyfish I’ve ever seen. Not knowing anything about the intentions of this creature, in my mind I was certain he wanted to sting me. I’m sure that wasn’t reality, but in my mind I believed he was waiting for me, along with his buddies scattered around the ocean floor. I heard the theme from Jaws in my mind. There was no way I was swimming with these guys. I wondered if my paranoia over jellyfish created them there just for me to deal with. Regardless, I decided it was a smart time to wimp out. As I turned and headed back to the boat- a swim of only a minute or two, I realized I was surrounded by jellyfish. I stopped and looked at a dozen or more, each 3” to 6” in diameter, and each one a few feet from another. There was no way out but to keep swimming- very carefully. I felt like I was swimming through a minefield. My strokes got faster, bigger and stronger as I wanted out of the water NOW. I was breathing heavier as I frantically swam as fast and as carefully as I could back to the boat. My husband was waiting to safely pull me out, knowing what had happened. I was very grateful to have made it through the jungle of jellyfish without being stung.
We talked about the experience as we sailed away. I shared with Darryl how I was afraid because of the thoughts in my mind of what a jellyfish that large could do to me. I shared that I was determined to still snorkel and not allow my thoughts of fear to hold me back. Darryl was kind enough to point out that sometimes our survival instinct is there for a reason, and that often the difference between fear and respect is knowledge. If I’d googled “Box Jellyfish”, I would have known if they were friendly or not prior to being in the water with them. But, until proven otherwise, it was just smart to treat them with great respect and distance.
Going back to my metaphorical stingray, it all made sense. We all know what we’re afraid of. What we sometimes fail to notice is whether or not this fear is justified or not. If through education and experience I know that it’s not a stingray, but a friendly manta, then I’m jumping in to the ocean of life and playing full out.
I’ll still watch for the stingrays and jellyfish in my life- in and out of the water. Something tells me that these little guys were here for a reason and if I pay attention, I just might learn more from them- about life and about myself. Maybe someday I’ll actually be able to appreciate them too. (Okay, well that might be pushing it a bit too far… )