“Mummy!” Whit spluttered as he came up, blowing water out of his mouth, his snorkel mask askew. “Look!” He indicated below where he was treading water. Simultaneously we ducked under. I looked over and watched him gazing at the school of fish swarming along the bottom of the ocean. The wonder was palpable in his eyes.
When I broke the surface I saw Matt and Grace floating on the surface a few feet off to my left. We were in the Galapagos Islands. The clear, turquoise water was even more extraordinary than I had imagined. We had just spent 20 minutes only feet away from four baby sea lions who tumbled over each other and themselves in the shallow water at the rocky shore of an island. Grace had watched them, marveling at how close they were, gasping and exclaiming out loud over and over. Finally they had swum away and so had we.
My favorite part of this beautiful afternoon was the way the sunlight slanted through the water. The tangible beams reminded me of the way you could see light coming through the windows of one of the big lecture halls at college, somehow solid, real, floating with dust motes and years and years of memories. This light was similarly visible, and I watched Grace, Whit, and Matt kick their way through the slanting skeins. The bubbles that our kicking created sparkled like tiny diamonds in the water.
I hung back, watching my family swim. Sometimes, though rarely, I am aware even as I live a moment that it will be one that swells and takes on shape and solidity in memory, something I return to, a touchstone of a season in time. I have come to think of this sensation as the closest thing I know to grace. It came over me then, in the empty Galapagos ocean. (note: this is different, though related to, the sensation that I’m living, alongside my children, a Life Lesson, like in the hockey rink)
Grace looked like a long, lean mermaid as, her courage growing, she dove down below the surface, the silvery fish parting as she neared. Whit’s seersucker swim trunks ballooned around his pale legs as he bicycled in the water. I kept my head down, watching them swim, the only sound my own breathing through the snorkel. Suddenly William Styron’s seminal, powerful book, Darkness Visible, came to mind and I thought: this is lightness visible. In every sense of the word. The light streaking through the water, the silver fish glinting as they glided over the ocean floor, the glittering bubbles, my children learning something new in a place so far from home I’d described it before we left as the dark side of the moon.
I kept watching, head down, my own breathing loud in my ears, for another long while. And then we all swam back to the dinghy, climbed in, and headed home to the boat for the evening.
Photo credit: William Rice