Diver with a snorkel sitting on the edge of a boat

Swimming with Sharks – A Lesson for Educators

Our family had a quite a Christmas adventure this year.  It was a lesson in how great plans can go awry, and what you get ends up being quite different from what you expected.  In the end it is all about the perspective you give it!

We planned a family reunion in Hawaii to celebrate our granddaughter’s December graduation from Chaminade University in Honolulu, HI.  Brittney’s major was environmental studies and her love is saving sharks.  She is interested in all things having to do with sharks and has gone on many shark swims in open ocean waters (as well as cleaning up beaches and educating people about sharks, rays, and sea turtles at the nearby Sea Life Park where she was an intern.)

So as a Christmas present from Nana (me) and Poppo (my husband), we arranged for the adventuresome ones to go for a swim with the sharks in open water.  Brittney was delighted!  We boarded a small boat at the local marina.  There was just room enough for the eight of us: Brittney and friend, me, Auntie, two teen-age cousins, plus the Skipper and Safety Guide.

The four of us “landlubbers” from the pastures of Kansas had all been on ski boats and pontoons in large state lakes, but we had never been in a tiny boat in the middle of the ocean.  While the swells were not choppy, they were enormous and created a huge wall of water to our left or right each time we sank to the bottom of a swell.  It was awe-inspiring to say the least!

The tiny boat bobbed through the deep ocean swells out to a location three miles from shore.  The guide told us this was the “living room” for two species of sharks: Sandbar and Galapagos.  They were larger than the adults onboard (5 to 6 feet long and 200-300 pounds!)  Our guide dived overboard, swam around a bit and the sharks began to appear.  She said the sharks seemed curious and calm, and the water was smooth with no current—perfect conditions for the dive.

Brittney and her friend eagerly put on their gear—wet suits, snorkels, diving masks, and fins—and then stepped down the boat ladder into the water.

The other four of us weren’t so sure about this. What did we know about sea environments??  But the older cousin got up his nerve, suited up, and entered the water, hanging tightly to the rope along the side of the boat.  He struggled with the new equipment (snorkel & fins) which he had never used before and generally felt like a tiny cork bobbing around!

Back in the boat, his sister was turning greenish-gray and looking rather ill. In fact, seasickness was getting to all of us.  Young Jackie decided that getting in the water might help, so she geared up and eased down the ladder.  Hanging onto the rope she saw her first shark up close and personal and promptly threw up all over him!   We called her back into the boat and rubbed her back as she continued to throw up over the railing.

Then it was her mom’s turn!  She eased down the ladder and held onto the rope.  But by now, all the bobbing was making her sick too.  So she came right back up the ladder and joined her daughter heaving over the railing.

By that time the constant bobbing was making me sick and I was rubbing backs and trying to soothe others as my own stomach gurgled and whirled!  Cousin Riley finally gave up trying to swim with all the new equipment and came back into the boat.   The poor Skipper was trying to make the best of things shipside by sharing facts about the sea life and the environment to try to take our minds off our upset stomachs.  But we were hardly listening because we were so sick!

Of course, Brittney and her friend were just swimming and diving away while the guide took underwater video pictures of their adventures with the sharks.  Thankfully, they didn’t stay out too long and the Skipper kindly rushed the boat back to the marina so we could get our feet back on solid ground!  We landlubbers scampered out of the boat and collapsed into Uncle Jeff’s van parked close by.  It felt so good to be back on land!

Later, after our stomachs had settled down, we all laughed about this adventure.  It was the perfect Christmas present for some just as I had hoped—certainly for Brittney and her friend.  But I was afraid it was a real BUST for others—especially the cousins (who were our other grandchildren).

However, all the way home we laughed and talked about our ridiculous predicament—how green and miserable some of us looked and felt.  And all evening we shared our story with other family members and friends who had not been with us.   Weeks later we were still laughing about swimming with sharks.  For some it was glorious.  For others it was miserable.  But for ALL of us, it was memorable!

This reminded me of something I teach in our workshops.  We create our own interpretations of events.  We can create stories that make us feel sorry for ourselves and keep us stuck in misery.  Or we can create a story that depersonalizes the hurt and helps us move forward.  Which path do you choose?