Many of you know I am a fan of Sharks and Shark Week. Although I do not care for all of the Shark Week shenanigans, I do appreciate the efforts of researchers, marine biologists and many others who share fascinating facts about these amazing, mysterious creatures. As one who is drawn to all of God’s Creation, I can’t help but ponder the diversity, beauty, darkness and brutality that co-exist in our current reality.
It has become my Shark Week yearly tradition and tribute to tell this story about my actual Shark encounter.
I hope you enjoy it…
Florida, 1994 on July 31st…
I am with three friends and excited for the first beach visit of my vacation. We are at Waveland Beach – the Southern most end of Jensen Beach. Understand, I am one who is known at times to be oblivious to my surroundings. However, I am with three other people and there are a good number of beach goers this day.
Lifeguards on duty.
Par for the course beach day.
We are enjoying the beautiful, clear green water, standing in about waist to chest deep, facing away from the beach and toward the ocean.
I suggest, you never do that.
Always keep one eye toward the lifeguards and shore.
I really do, now.
I feel I am one with the Lifeguards and I will touch base with them when I hit the beach to check conditions and other inside information. To this day. If the Lifeguards whistle, point…yell or communicate in any way- Heck, if the Lifeguard goes on a bathroom break, I know it!
However, on this day while I was freely frolicking, I failed to do it:
We are immersed in conversation, unaware that during our time of oblivious wading, the beach mood and dynamic at the shore has drastically changed.
I am not sure of what prompted our attention.
But as if in slow motion we turn toward the beach.
We are facing about 40-50 feet between us and the sand and to our shock, we are standing alone in the 4 1/2 feet deep water. What I see causes a feeling in my gut and heart that I have failed to experience in my life prior and since. Thank God.
Fear that is so present that death itself feels near.
I smell death in the air. I sense it closing in on me.
On the shore the lifeguard stands, waving frantically, holding a red flag, as the beach goers stare at us waving and jumping as if they could make us move faster with their own movement. What we see is not encouraging, friends. I sense fear in the hundreds of faces facing us. I see the backsides of a handful of people, ankle-deep having already hastily exited the water.
It gets worse.
Of the three others with me, I am furthest to the left and closest to what I see skimming through the water.About 10 feet away a large black-grey mass is swimming to my left and I feel fear as my mind processes the size.
Bigger than me.
Coming. Toward. Me.
We are all pushing in toward the beach and the only thing I see or feel is the moment.
It looms large and I feel as if I am about to fall into an unknown, incomprehensible abyss.
My eyes are piercing the lifeguard as if she is Jesus.
I never let my eyes depart from her. There is no doubt that I must not look back at what I dare not see. There is not a second to even consider it.
Ten to Twelve feet of grey doom under clear green beauty swims towards me as I make my way to shore.
Death wells up in me and feels as close as suffocation but for the adrenaline coursing through my body. I care for no one or nothing at this moment but my own survival.
I see nothing but a shore of freaking people and one life guard coaching me from what I know pursues me. I forget I am with friends. I forget everything.
I am alone…
I run through water that pushes against my waist, hips and thighs. My calf muscles burn as I push through sand in a frantic, lunging, gasping assault to escape what I cannot see, but fear most.
Sweet relief! We all make it to shore.
People applaud, look relieved, smile at us, some back pats for the guys and thumbs up from others.
One of the lifeguards, visibly shaken speaks to me,
“That shark was coming right at YOU!”
She adds, “I’ve never seen a shark swim so fast towards people before.”
Thus began my “shark magnet” reputation and joking. We decided to head off for lunch. We had asked the Lifeguard why she thought the shark darted so suddenly. She did not know. How could she? We debated the possibilities and enjoyed retelling our shark tale over chowder from the safety of a surf-side table.
There is much we do not understand about these creatures. Heck, we don’t understand our fellow human beings 95% of the time. All cannot be understood or known, though we pride ourselves on what we believe we know. I do know this: I have an immense love and appreciation for these mysterious creatures, and all living things. Except mosquitoes. And ticks. Especially ticks. But, I digress…
I am grateful that the shark darted away on that fateful day. I am grateful there are things we will never know…or understand this side of eternity. Some things are not meant to be known.
The bottom line is, we share this good earth with creatures that God has put here for reasons we will never know. It’s their world, too. Our role is one of stewardship, respect and responsibility. Let’s remember that when we go in the water.