Captain Cook's revenge
During our spring break trip to Kona, Chad and I took the kids out to Kealakekua Bay to paddle to the spot where Captain Cook was killed by the native Hawaiians in the late 18th century. Because this is our family's idea of fun. It was a perfect morning--clear and cool. I surveyed the bay and declared it a beautiful place to die, then onto the water we went.
I generally don't mind being on the water, but I'm not fond of being in the water, particularly where man-eating creatures are known to live. So, when Dylan jumped out of the kayak to snorkel, I was a bit on edge.
"You're sure there are no sharks in the bay," I whispered to Chad, who was sitting with Rowan on a paddleboard next to me. He just rolled his eyes, which I knew was meant to communicate You're being ridiculous, but it also did not answer my question. I took this to mean that there absolutely were sharks in the water. At that very moment, blood began gushing from Rowan's nose and dripping into the water where Dylan was swimming.
I don't believe there's a sensible way to have a panic attack of any kind, but there's certainly no sensible way to have a panic attack in a kayak while your child is actively bleeding into what you are now convinced are shark infested waters. I was immediately seized by a vision of some razor-toothed mouth emerging from the deep to drag my children below the surface as they clutched their snorkel gear to their chests, saying solemnly, "We only wanted to see the angelfish. . ."
If you're prone to episodes like this, you'll understand how hard it is to shake an image that gets lodged into the reptilian part of your brain. Somehow I refrained from screaming, "GET OUT OF THE WATER! YOU'RE ABOUT TO BE EATEN BY A SHARK!" and I calmly convinced Dylan to get out of the water so that we could get closer to the Cook monument. Tour boats were dumping snorkelers into the water in that direction, and I was certain the sharks would prefer to attack the boaters.
We paddled on without being eaten. In the shallows near the monument, both kids snorkeled successfully with Chad, while I hung back with the boats clenching my teeth. I briefly tried to see what was swimming around below me, but I only needed to stick my face in the water to bring about an episode of panicked gasping. I decided to be content with the children's occasional reports to me.
In the end, nothing was lurking below the surface but my anxiety, and even then it didn't pull me under, which was a significant victory for me. It's always there, lurking, like the shark that did attack a swimmer a few days later, just north of the bay where we were paddling. This is the flaw in anxiety: We're always swimming with sharks. Most days they don't attack. Some days they do. Captain Cook could tell you about how quickly tides can turn. It's a struggle to make peace with the inherent risks in life. But I do. I must. If I want my kids to know--if I want to know--more joy than fear in life, this is the work that I have to do.