A man set up to fish in the surf at the water’s edge just a few feet from my chair. I never usually see these men catch anything. Which is reassuring because fish are yucky, and they can’t be in the ocean where I swim.
However, within a few minutes he reels in a small fish, about eight inches head to tail at most. He throws it back after showing it off to his kids. A little later another one. Maybe the same fish. Fish aren’t known for their mental capacity.
I walked over to inquire about this killer creature and he told me it was a kingfish. Then I asked how far he casts out.
He said just past the breakers.
Just past the breakers is just past where I swim.
“Don’t tell me that! I don’t like to think about fish being in the ocean.”
“Oh there’s a lot of fish out there but these don’t even have teeth, don’t worry.”
Sure, don’t worry. As if the absence of teeth could keep me from a slimy collision with a deadly bait fish.
My love of the water is one of the few areas of my life where I embrace blindness. Bodies of water are dangerous! Waves, currents, deep ends, stinging amorphous blobs…you can drown in a teaspoon of water yet I jump in headfirst. The rest of my life is an eyes-wide-open minefield of anxiety…
If I apply for this job it’ll be awkward if I get it and I have to tell work I’m leaving on short notice and I have this trip planned and might not be able to take vacation so soon after starting and I wonder where the bathrooms are…
I tell others “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” but involuntarily maintain the opposite mentality.
Maybe the murky depths actually shield me from my fears.
They say seeing is believing but sometimes it’s easier to believe what we don’t see. I can float in the ocean all day until I see or feel a fish, then I can’t go back. At least for a few minutes. If you can’t see them they’re not there. A child pulling the covers over her head to hide from a monster. If you can’t see them they can’t see you. If you don’t check your email, work doesn’t exist. Closing your eyes as the airplane ascends to pretend you’re not hurtling through air in a metal tube.
It’s easy to make yourself blind to reality if you want. Look, he’s not sick, he still likes his favorite ice cream. He went down the stairs by himself that one time without falling, everything must be fine.
Maybe being blind to reality is what we all really need to thrive. At least for some of us. Every time we get in a car we risk our lives. Riding a bike is a delicate act of balancing inches away from a bloody curb. Tripping on a curb could end up in a concussion and blood clot in the brain. Who could step out of the house acknowledging all that’s really there with us, teeth or no teeth. Indoors, under the covers, away from monsters is the only safe haven.
But then there would never be the chance to be enveloped by warm water, drifting softly on the swells. It’s a tightrope act teetering between hiding from danger to enjoy the beauty on the other side.