The sky and the water met at the horizon in a glow of the clearest aqua. It was a color I had never experienced before. It’s brilliance, stunning. The choppy waters of the ocean, rocked our boat, causing a spray to cover us. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. “Was this really happening?” It was. I couldn’t believe it.
When I was thirteen years old, living in Southern California, I, like a majority of the same demographic, wanted more than anything in this life to be a Marine Biologist. I think I really just wanted to work at Sea World, but in a family where education was a priority, I declared Marine Biology my college major. My specialty, swimming with dolphins. I wore a silver dolphin charm on a hemp string. I slept with a way- too-big-for-my-bed dolphin stuffed animal. It was good to know my life path so early. I felt certain the best way for me to convince my parents to get me into the water was to be solid in the path of the next forty years of my life.
Enter, high school science classes. I quickly realized, I kind of could hardly stand to study science. And maybe, if I were being honest, I didn’t really want to major in Marine Biology after all. There was one thing for certain, I would never be satisfied until I swam with these beautiful creatures. I did some research and the cost was price prohibitive to my allowance, so I tucked that dream away along with my anti-tuna fisherman stickers and Greenpeace propaganda.
On my thirty-ninth birthday, I jotted down a list entitled: Forty by Forty. Earlier in the year, my sister and I had shared in a conversation bemoaning the feeling of just surviving, as opposed to fully living. My solution to more than survival, this list. A bucket list of things I wanted to accomplish before I turned forty years old. Included on the list were items I had always wanted to do, but out of fear, never tried. Also, things I always wanted to do, but had not pursued. Things I really didn’t want to do, but knew would take me out of my comfort zone. I sent a list to Jonesy, my best friend, my sisters and to the Facebook population for accountability and to see who would be interested in joining in. Number 35 on the list was swim with dolphins.
The summer of my fortieth year, Jonesy booked us a cruise. It was to serve as an anniversary gift and early birthday celebration. Included on the trip …I would be swimming with dolphins! Arm pumping, lean over, throw your hands in the air while doing the Holy Spirit dance excitement filled me.
We disembarked the ship at Freeport and took several forms of transportation to get to the other side of the Island to an inlet where we would meet another group of people. Once there, we divided between the people who would be having a Dolphin experience and those of us who would be doing an open ocean swim with the dolphins. Jonesy and I, along with a younger couple, boarded a small boat and headed back out to sea. The coastline getting smaller and smaller until it was just a tiny line in the distance. Behind the boat, two dolphins swam along, occasionally jumping waves.
“Once I stop the boat, you will just need to jump overboard.”
This part had not really hit me with full intensity until that very moment. But the bobbling snout of these creatures I had loved for so long beckoned me to jump into this rough water, where my weak swimming self would likely drown, or sharks were most probably going to eat me. If I was to die, I would die fulfilling this dream, so with just the tiniest bit of hesitation, I jumped. And as I popped back to the surface, just beside me, this beautiful creature made his way under my hand. I swallowed a mouthful of salt water, my mouth gaping. The nervous excitement came as a giggle I could not control. The staff, shared with us information about the dolphins and then gave us instruction on how to get them to do tricks. For an hour, we played. They performed tricks, they swam with us holding on at speeds I was not fully prepared to enjoy. They spit water in our faces and I just kept petting the muscular back, marveling at the strength.
When it was time to get back into the boat, I tumbled over the side. I looked at Jonesy and I began to cry. Tears flowed and my body shook as I tried not to go into a full wail. The thirteen-year-old me and the thirty-nine-year-old me were combined into a blubbering mass of absolute joy. It had been worth the twenty-six year wait. It was all the more sweet as a gift from the man who had committed to making my dreams a reality, as he was able.
My fortieth birthday came and went. My list has seven unaccomplished items, but I have resigned myself that I will never know how to do a cartwheel, and I think I can live in that reality. I am heading toward my forty-fifth birthday with great speed and I might add those left overs, sans the cartwheel, to a new list to try to accomplish in the next six months. The take away from the year before forty is the joy of the pursuit of dreams and embracing life purposely. That will be the top item of my new list.