Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Simple Gesture

A Simple Gesture

Janet Matthews

I was excited. The day was fine, and the ocean sparkled in the sun as the engines of the old boat began to turn over. It was March 1992, and only the week before I had acted on impulse and booked this last-minute trip to Club Med. Now I found myself on the exotic eastern Caribbean island of St. Lucia. White sand beaches, black sand beaches, volcanoes, rain forests, and deep turquoise water—the stuff that make up dreams. Born a water baby and beach lover, I loved doing anything by, near, in, or on the water.

Only six weeks out of a long-term relationship, I was suffering from a badly broken heart. But I was determined to let the universe know that even though it felt like my life was over, I knew it wasn’t, and I was prepared to do my part to move on. Now a single woman of forty, the Club Med option to book as a single and share my trip with another made taking a vacation a little more doable. But I’d never taken a vacation alone before, and I was full of trepidations.

I was quickly seduced by the tropical air, the white sand beach, the friendly people, the mixture of French and Latin music, the fabulous food, and the laughter and continuous activities. Although there were only a few other singles there that week, the staff, known as “GOs,” were all single. They’re not THAT much younger than me, I rationalized, I’ll make friends in that quarter.

And so I did. Although my heart was filled with sadness and loss, the week began to shine with a new kind of magic. I anticipated a lot of different things, and I particularly looked forward to doing some snorkeling.

Twenty years before, I had snorkeled off a gorgeous white sand beach in the Bahamas, and I could hardly wait to do it again. Memories of kicking through warm turquoise water looking for shells filled my mind. I quickly discovered that here, snorkeling right off the beach was not really possible, but every morning at ten, a boat took vacationers out snorkeling. So on the second day, after applying a 40 SPF sunscreen to my winter-white Canadian skin, I arrived at the dock ready to go, along with twelve other eager beavers. My mind danced with visions of lovely, crystal-clear, turquoise water shifting over white sand, where we would explore colorful reefs surrounded by exotic fish.

Our leader was a young man from the island of Eleuthera. A self-starter, Wesley had learned French from the local tourists, and now he shared his engaging smile and fun-loving personality in two languages. Wesley entertained us all.

The old boat motored out on enormous deep-blue swells to the bottom of a great black cliff, where only a few yards away the water crashed into the base. The captain cut the engines and dropped the anchor. We would snorkel here, announced Wesley.

I was aghast! This was not my vision. Where was the beach? My lovely and quiet turquoise water? As the boat rose and fell on huge dark-blue swells, I was filled with anxiety. One by one the others donned their gear and with little hesitation jumped in. Now I was not only frightened, I was mortified. The water baby—the beach lover—was scared. And I was suddenly the last one on the boat.

With a gentle kind of patience, Wesley coached me into my gear and waited until I was in the water. The enormous swells surged around me, blocking my view of everything. Although crystal clear, the water was deep, in constant motion and quite cold. I could hear it crashing onto huge, jagged black rocks not far away.

With my heart pounding I let go of the ladder, put my face in the water and kicked along after Wesley, trying to rise above my fears. I longed for my partner of the past four years. I imagined him there at my side, taking my hand while we shared this experience. I really missed him. But he was not there—and never would be again. I was overcome with sadness and loneliness. I began then to talk to God, asking for courage and help with my fear and loneliness.

Suddenly I felt Wesley’s hand reach over and gently slip into mine. The gesture was so unexpected, so comforting, that my eyes filled up while a huge lump immediately rose in my throat. Blinking fast, I chided myself, Don’t lose it now, girl! You can’t cry into a face mask!

For the next few minutes he held my hand reassuringly while we kicked along under the surface. Suddenly I did not feel so alone, and I began to calm right down. He pointed at coral here, a fish over there, smiling at me through his facemask. After a few minutes he turned and looked directly at me. He let go of my hand, asking with his eyes if I was okay now. To my amazement, I was, and I gave him a grinning, thumbs-up nod. Twenty minutes later I climbed back up the ladder, ecstatic at my simple accomplishment, with the memory of that kind and gentle gesture imprinted on my heart forever.

During the Friday night sports awards ceremony, medals were given out with a lot of hoopla and applause to those who had won events or performed really well. Imagine my amazement when Wesley called my name and presented me with a special award for participation, for simply showing up that week more than anyone else—to go snorkeling.

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