Maldives6: From Now On

Contemplating my last blog entry from the Maldives, I wanted to conjure up THE MOMENT from the trip, the quintessential experience, the big ah-ha. So hard. I’d seen so much and learned even more about myself.

But as I tried to come up with this moment, I found myself absently humming the chorus to From Now On, a tune from the movie musical The Greatest Showman. 

The movie wasn’t that big in the States, but let me be clear, it was HUGE in Britain. At least that’s what two of our friends on the boat told us, the two that knew the words to EVERY song on the soundtrack, and who would break into From Now On at the top of their lungs occasionally during our swims.

(Warning: it’s about to get real here, so cue the uncomfortable fidgeting.)

Swimming back to the dhoni after my mind-meld swim with the manta, I’d felt the tears rolling as I climbed up the swim ladder. I hadn’t realized until that moment I’d been crying. 

I walked to the bow of the boat, seeking a quiet place to be somewhat alone (alone as you can be on a small boat with 14 people). Everyone else was excited and talking, so I felt a little foolish and dramatic with the tears. 

I have made vulnerability my enemy for so long, yet when I let it in, it is the one true experience that always changes me for the better. Manta as metaphor: go deep and find peace.

Up in the bow, my Hugh-Jackman-loving friend had sought out the same quiet space. We’d discovered earlier in the trip that we’d both been through mutual grief and tragic loss: she with an unexpected and sudden death of a loved one; me with the senseless death of my brother-in-law in a random act of gun violence. 

There is no life experience stronger or faster in bringing people together than shared tragedy. 

She saw my tears and laughed; I saw hers and laughed. Then we cried some more, and laughed some more. No words passed. They weren’t necessary. I was so grateful for her.

I rarely talk about the shooting with friends, let alone complete strangers. Not only because it’s terrible, but because it changes the way people see you, and the way they treat you. 

I have found it is a burden that needs to be shared with discretion. Not everyone is strong enough to carry it.

But sometimes the fact that strangers are temporary makes sharing less risky. And in the wide open ocean, half a world away from my everyday life, there was room for the question, room for the risk, room to share the burden.

I never guessed someone else would be carrying the same burden on that trip. The circumstances of death were different, but our stories left the same heavy weight of grief on our shoulders. 

But it also left us with deeper reasons to laugh, to see the magnificent world, to feel the ocean around us, to dance and sing as loud as possible, and to watch for dolphin fins on the horizon.

There is such power in feeling understood.

The following night, after our last dinner and group pictures, Marni and I left for the airport. I was coming home tan (at least on one side; gotta get better at backstroke), I was stronger, and I was changed. 

I’d found space in this 52 year old body to grow, space to cry, space to imagine myself farther into the world, space to make a new friend for life, space to be brave.

Will I go back? I’d love to try, but I know it wouldn’t be the same. Every second that ticks creates a past that can never be relived, no matter how much we wish we could do it, or see them, again.

I am ready to make more deep blue salty memories. Maybe Belize next year?

–TJ Wiley Forsyth

Maldives5: Manta as Metaphor

I’ve been dragging my feet with these last few entries. It’s been nearly a month since I was in the Maldives. I don’t want to lose my reasons for revisiting those warm blue memories.

The above pic was one of my favorite moments of the trip. It was our next-to-last day, and our swim guide said, “Before breakfast, we’re swimming with dolphins and mantas.”

Have you seen the Kristen Wiig character Super Excited Sue from SNL? That was me.

The next morning, we all showed up with snorkeling gear and piled in the dhoni in search of dolphin.

Our local guide on the bow would shout and point directions to the captain in the back, steering the boat toward whichever pod was closest. Then he would suddenly shout, “Dolphins! Get in now!” And we’d all throw ourselves off the boat and swim like mad toward the fins.

Not everyone would make it off the boat before our guide would then call out, “Wait! They’re too far away. We’ll go find another group.” And off the dhoni would go, leaving the group of swimmers that had just leapt out, bobbing around by themselves in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

I loved this so much! Not just the trust piece of both parties, but the sheer craziness of leaving those swimmers. That would never happen in America, land of the overly cautious and lawsuit-laden.

We were in and out of the boat multiple times in our quest, so I was part of the first group off and left behind, as well as the group that stayed on and got closer.

So close. The pods of bottle-nosed dolphin that swam under us were elegant, squeaky-chatty, and enviably free. They would roll their bodies slightly every once in awhile to check us out, with a look that said, “You call that swimming?” Then promptly leave us in their wake.

I also discovered that spiritually speaking, I’m more of a manta than a dolphin. Right when I thought I’d missed seeing a manta forever, one glided directly underneath me. I swam my ass off to keep up with it as it gently flew below me, barely moving its six-foot wing span.

The irony didn’t escape me. I was flailing on the surface trying to keep up, as the giant below me cruised effortlessly in deeper water, allowing me to follow. Manta as metaphor.

I have so much to learn.

–TJ Wiley Forsyth