An ideal day of fun and sun in the ocean turns dangerous!
My boyfriend was a former Navy SEAL, so it was only natural that we spent time in the water together, preferably in the ocean. This wasn’t a problem as we were only a few hours from our favorite beach there in Florida. Set next to a harbor, this was not a crowded, touristy site but one that lay almost forgotten between the greater sands north and south of it. It was a very calm day with no sign of the usual surfers, there being very little in the way of waves. A few sunbathers and some children playing near the shore were the only ones to share the water with us this day. The lifeguard was stationed in his tower, looking as if he wished to sleep. We swam out much further than we usual would, due to the lack of forcing waves to tax our strength. We floated and talked, swam and held together in wet, wonderful play. I was getting tired but didn’t wish to end this special time. My friend noticed this and despite my protests, started back towards the stretch of beach where we had left our things. I was grateful for his insistence by the time it came into sight for we had been out for quite a while and had drifted farther than I thought.
We were close enough to shore now to put our legs down and walk in. I was just about to do just that when he reached out to me and shook his head, pointing down to the water below us. The water seemed grey and moving to its own current below the surface. I didn’t know what this was and gave him a questioning look.
“Stingrays,” he whispered as he drew me close beside him. “Do not put your legs down! Move slowly.”
I felt my heart leap into my throat and a surging fear energized me to keep afloat. Looking closely, I saw that the grey was a mass of moving stingrays just below the surface. One or two wouldn’t be a problem as they can usually be frightened away but there must be hundreds of them! I looked towards the beach which was so close now, noting that no one was in the water. The life guard stood on the shore, arms akimbo as he watched us approaching. My friend touched my arm to get my attention and then pointed toward the breakwater. We have to go there? It seemed so far away with danger just below us!
We swam slowly along the surface, moving as smoothly as we could so as to not disturb or alarm the swimming mass below us. Time seemed to slow, then stop as all of my senses became sharp and clear. I grew numb to the fear as if something had placed it to the side of me, not of me. I noted the sun shafts into the water, dancing with joy upon the rippling mass below me. I felt its heat embrace my body and drew comfort from its touch. Thoughts spun through my mind, all the whys and what if’s… then there was silence and peace as if they were shoved away by a greater force and forbidden to re-enter. I found that I was truly living in that moment. It no longer mattered how far the breakwater was. I felt as one with the sea and the air around me though a part of my mind questioned my sanity. I reached down below the water and gently stroked one of the bodies below me. I felt such a great sense of wonder and joy even as my heart slammed in terror at my actions! Looking to my friend, I saw him do the same thing and I smiled.
The breakwater was close now and the edges of the stingray mass were sparser as we approached the rocks and boulders. The waves grew rougher and the motion of the sea seemed to crash against the jagged edges there. The moment of peace was broken and the full force of reality slammed into me, taking my breath and cramping my body as we struggled to lift ourselves up onto the rocks. The what if’s and terror came back with a vengeance! The lifeguard had climbed down the facing to get as close as he could to help us. He reached for my outstretched arm as my friend gave me a final push upwards and out of the potentially deadly waters. He then quickly scrambled to follow me. We were safe and sat huddled together for a while upon the slanting, slick, sharp surface of granite and concrete. Wordlessly, we gazed at the scene below us. Awe and fear, joy and gratitude, flooded me. I trembled and couldn’t stop the shaking, even as I smiled. I knew without a doubt that we had not been alone in that water with the stingrays. God had held us and carried us to safety.