I have always been afraid of the dark. I do my best to say this with as little shame and embarrassment as possible, given my age (let’s just say, “twenty-something”). From childhood my irrational fears transitioned from monsters to ghosts to intruders in the night, with scary movies serving as fuel for my overactive imagination. I remember once confessing this fear in my late teens only to be asked the question, is it truly the dark you fear, or the unknown? I was stumped, and I could only mutter, “Both?”
Many years after that moment my travels brought me to Australia, and as an avid SCUBA diver I had to explore the Great Barrier Reef. I signed up for a three-day, two-night live-aboard excursion to the lesser-touched outer reef. While I had been diving for years I had yet to experience a night dive. Though each dive was optional, the thought of being sixty feet below the surface of the water in pitch-black terrified me, but I could not pass up the opportunity to see what mischief subaqueous creatures got up to at night. I decided it was time to face my fears.
All divers were gathered for the briefing, paired up and then sent out to gear up. Before we were dismissed, our dive master yelled out to the crew at the stern of the ship, “Are the sharks here yet?”
Taken with natural curiosity we ran to the stern to be met with a sight I was not prepared for. Sharks circled the swim platform feeding on the squid the staff members were throwing overboard. It was this exact spot we were to enter the water. To say I was apprehensive was an understatement. Though I liked to consider myself enlightened about the true nature of sharks, and had encountered them in prior dives without incident, you never know what may happen in the darkness. After all, sharks feed at night. Suiting up my heart raced as I was about to immerse myself in the unknown.
Thankfully, as divers entered the water the sharks scattered, but I knew they were everywhere. I would have nothing to protect myself; the only accessory I would be taking with me into the water was a flashlight. In air the light spreads, but in water, a denser medium, the light is emitted as a narrow beam, illuminating only what is directly in front of it. Unlike the previous dive, the reef wasn’t under the boat so my dive-buddy and I would have to swim through thirty feet of open water alone to reach it. As I swam through the abyss I shone my little beam of light around it reflected in pairs of green dots. Shark eyes. These curious, inquisitive yet unnerving creatures were everywhere and there was nothing to protect me from them. Though, as far as I knew, they were not the man-eating species, I clung to my dive-buddy as Jaws played in my mind in high definition.
Once we made it to the reef I relaxed finding comfort in the more enclosed space. The activity I saw amazed me. At night the fish sleep in crevices and an array of life feeds in the corals; you can even help the larger fish feed by shining your light on their prey. So long as you weren’t one of these unlucky creatures there was nothing to fear. Feeling more comfortable on the swim back, I let go of my dive buddy and watched the silhouettes of the sharks swimming under the boat without fear. Once back on the boat I felt so silly that I almost let fear hold me back from that incredible experience.
Fear, I truly realized, is all an illusion we allow our minds to create. We let movies, television shows and especially other people, convince us that the world is a scary place and because of this many people never step outside their comfort zones. They never challenge themselves to live to their full potential. They never live their dreams because they are afraid of the unknown. This to me truly is the greatest tragedy of life. So going forward I decided to not let what others say paralyze me with fear, I’d have to embrace it and face experiences with no expectations.
Since that night I sleep peacefully engulfed in complete darkness, fearing neither the pitch nor the unknown. The unknown, it turns out, is the best part of life.
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