Ocean Drive, Miami Beach, March 2015

It was her idea to get certified for scuba diving.  Prior to her suggestion, I had never really thought about it, one way or the other.  I was not opposed to the idea, nor was I particularly excited about it.  She wanted to do it on the trip to Mexico, and I wanted to go on the trip.  So, I got certified.

The first part of getting certified to dive is classroom stuff, followed by some dives in the pool.  Those were fine--the physics and biology of diving is interesting, and I didn't have too much trouble with the skills (one woman in our group panicked immediately upon going under water in the pool--claustrophobia).

Getting into the ocean, on the other hand, was a different matter.  Twenty minutes into the first dive and I was hooked forever.  I just knew it.  It's a physical skill, but it is also relaxing.  There is an element of being alone, just you and the sound of your breathing, but it is an activity you do with other people--you and your dive buddy and being alone together, if that makes sense.

More than anything else, though, is the sense that you are visiting someplace that is not yours.  Watching the fish effortlessly move around and maintain buoyancy while you struggle reinforces the idea that this is their home, and you are a crude, awkward guest.  There is something humbling about being down there, something that strips away our reflexive sense of entitlement.  It is a privilege to dive.

Honestly, this dive trip was a slight disappointment.  Heavy seas scuttled two of the six dives I had planned.  The reefs near Key West are not in great shape--there is a lot of dead coral to be seen, which is sad and concerning.  Key Largo was fantastic, but again I only got one dive in.  I definitely want to get back to Key Largo--maybe next winter.

This time, I tried my hand at underwater photography, thanks to a birthday present from Mom and Dad (love you).  Honestly, I'm pretty pleased with the results--I'm not giving up my day job, but they turned out pretty well.

I'm sitting on Ocean Drive on Miami's famous South Beach, spending another couple of hours in the warm before flying back to the cold.  South Beach has such a glamorous reputation, but honestly it looks kind of like any other beach town.  I suspect this is because the beaches themselves are public.  To be fair, this is true in much of Florida--Florida takes an enormous amount of abuse, much of it completely justified, but this is something they get right.  No matter how many fancy hotels you build or shops you put up, you can't keep people from coming to the beach.  And the beach, and the ocean, is ultimately the attraction.

I have good friends, people that I value and trust their judgment, who prefer the mountains to the beach.  They are good people, but here I think they are utterly wrong.  Put aside they fact that in the mountains you are generally cold, while at the beach you are generally not.  Mountains are ultimately just large staircases without any stairs, while the ocean is freedom and possibility.  Stepping into the ocean is the closest thing to going up into space--you leave the normal, the familiar, the ordinary, and set off into the edge of something that is utterly vast and beyond our comprehension.  When I was a kid, I was transfixed by the idea that it I could swim all the way out to the horizon, the next bit of land I would hit was Europe.  But you could never do that, of course; something enormous and powerful was in between, a thing that I was literally dipping my toe into.  The ocean was a spiritual experience for me, even as a little kid, even if I did not or could not articulate it in those terms.

There is something else that comes through from my childhood when I go to the beach--the smell of the ocean.  They say smell is the sense that is tied in the most closely to memories, and that smell brings back memories.  All good ones, actually.  It sounds strange, but one of the things I most look forward to when I get to the beach is the smell.  It brings up all of those positive thoughts.

I'm glad I came on this trip.  I need to spend some time at the beach every once in a while, and the longer I am away, the more I forget that.  It may sound trite or ridiculous, but I find God in the ocean.


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