It was the holiday season and as was tradition, my family and I were spending time at our beach house as Christmas happens in the summer in South Africa. It is probably a funny thing for people on the other side of the world to see a pastel-themed beach house contrasted with the vibrant reds and greens of the Christmas holiday, but this was all we knew. We married the two concepts and color schemes by giving each other and the house silly, kitschy decorations like Santa and Mrs. Claus ornaments with Santa wearing a speedo and Mrs. Claus in a bikini. There was also the ceramic Santa and his reindeer display with Santa wearing a Hawaiian shirt, and his sleigh brimming with a surfboard, swim fins, beach umbrella and chairs and his reindeer reins made of tiny, ceramic floral leis.
After our traditional barbecue Christmas dinner of steak, prawns and sweet corn, we sat and watched the sun set and continued to thank each other profusely for the thoughtfulness of the gifts received and exchanged. By this time the party had expanded from just the five of us – Mom, Dad, my two older brothers, Travis and Trevor and myself, to include Miss Ruby and Captain Jack from up the road and our old family friends, Auntie Lois and Uncle Derrick and their two children, Eliza and Eddie who also spent the Christmas holidays at their beach house in the next town over.
As the sky darkened the grown-ups relaxed with Auntie Lois’ Famous Fiery eggnog (named “fiery” because it is alleged to be flammable because of the large amount of whiskey it is purported to contain). Travis, Trevor, Eddie, Eliza and I were just finishing our badminton game when Trevor suggested a night swim and pointed out the full moon breaking through the clouds in the sky.
We all agreed that this was a fantastic idea and scrambled hurriedly into the house to get into our swimming costumes as quickly as possible. The boys were faster than Eliza and me getting changed and out of the house although we were still fast by “girl” standards. Neither Eliza nor I were what one would call particularly “girly.” I was 12 and Eliza was a petite 13 and there weren’t any signs of womanhood on the horizon as yet for either of us so there was nothing to be “girly” about.
I remember vividly running into the oncoming waves and how brightly the moon shone and lit up the ocean for us! It was a spectacular display of nature! In many ways I had found being in the water far more comfortable than being on solid ground. The family often joked that I was part fish and called me a mermaid because of how easily I had taken to the water as a small child and how much I still loved it at adolescence.
I reveled in the weightless freedom I felt in the sea. It made me feel invincible, as if I could go anywhere and do anything and that although the world was vast, I could easily access all of it via that body of water. I saw the incredible beauty of the coral and seaweed and even of the jellyfish although a sting from one could ruin your entire day. I marveled at the industriousness and synchronization of the schools of silverfish that would dart and swim this way and that in perfect unison. I was always amazed at how effortlessly they moved together as one. I never felt more peaceful, happy or alive than when I would float on my back and look up at the sky and match my breath to the rhythm of life in the waves. To me this was proof that the sea, all of its lifeforms and me were all connected.
I was in that very blissful state floating on my back and breathing and gazing at the seemingly unreal giant moon (it looked so close -like I could just reach out my hand and touch its face), when I heard vague, muffled rumblings coming from the direction of the others. It seems the current had pulled me a little further out than I had thought although, to tell the truth, I had not actually thought about it. I turned my head and saw Eliza yelling with her hands cupped around her mouth in that way that we all do when attempting to project or direct our voices. I also saw Trevor and Travis swimming out towards me. I flipped over and started to swim towards them to save them the trouble of coming all the way out to me. I assumed that Ruby’s Christmas Pudding was finally ready and that I was being summoned for dessert.
As I easily began my stroke a perfect wave formed and I was grateful to the ocean for assisting my efforts. As I rose with the wave I felt a presence next to me and as I turned to exhale I saw an eye and looked directly into it. My brain recognized the eye but the emotion I felt was different than what I had associated previously with this creature. The sensation I had was that warm, fuzzy, happy feeling you have when you wake up from a dream in which you dreamt about someone famous or someone that you only know casually but in the course of the dream you somehow end up sharing a very tight bond and you feel like he/she knows you intimately. In the dream you become besties and the connection and friendship exceed all expectations you ever had and so you wake up feeling like someone in the world “gets” you and loves you unconditionally.
This eye was familiar to me because it was one I had seen in photographs and on television thousands of times but now instead of feeling fear, I felt only pure love. What had not been conveyed through the images I had seen was the deep connection and the innate understanding that this animal and I shared that we are all more alike than we are different. In that moment of connection I gained the wisdom that we, as living beings, all originated from the same source and that although we may take different forms during our lifetimes on this earth, our essence is not only similar but integrated in such a way that we will continue to be one long after this short journey.
I received this awareness just as the 14-foot Great White’s mouth broke into a wide smile and a sweet belly laugh erupted from deep inside his soul as his jaws opened and he welcomed me back home to the Oneness that is all of our destinies.