Courage to Lend
I stare into the deep blue water. I can feel the eyes on the back of my neck, daring me to jump, daring me to push myself farther than they would choose to go. I can feel a small audience form behind me, hesitant to step into the moment but more afraid to miss it, and I laugh. In my periphery I take note of the rocks and turtles forty feet below as they become frothed and opaque in the crashing surf. To jump successfully, I will need to clear eight feet of coral. This would be no problem if it weren't for the turtles. Rocks don’t move, and rocks don’t follow the surf. Too many times have I opened my eyes upon splashing down to see a green shell inches from my head. Even as a purported lover of nature, there are certain times when turtles are a bane to my daily life. I think death by turtle might make a great obituary, but in general jokes are funnier when you are around to hear them.
Once you are under the water a few seconds the wall becomes visible – jagged dead-white coral spattered in algae and anemones. You pop your head above the surface to gauge when the next set of waves is rolling in. You must use the rhythm of the ocean to throw yourself on land instead of getting sucked out towards the sea, where you will in all likelihood die. In an instant you decide that when the wave crashes you must swim hard towards the wall for a chance to escape. As the wave forces water above your head and onto the platform, you grab coral with your hands and feet, and grip on tight as the ocean recedes a dozen feet below you. The moment the water subsides you climb your way over the top and quickly move towards the rock wall.
I remember when I first missed the timing and was thrown against the coral, bleeding from my chest and arms and gasping for air. In the receding water, my body pulsed with the pounding of my heart. I could feel it rising up to my throat as I prepared myself for the second wave to throw me back into the rocks. There is little you can physically do to prepare for when the wave crashes except stick your hands and feet out like a falling cat, hoping that you can stop the wave from forcing your head into the wall. I can remember thinking that I didn’t want to die being ogled by nonchalant, sunscreen-nosed onlookers. I am comfortably realistic in my understanding of our penchant for Genovese over Genesis, but I still revile in the idea of a public execution.
Wet, tired, and bruised, I crawl my way back up the coral wall until I reach the plateau. Before I can even settle myself for another dive tourists are encroaching the edge, hesitantly removing articles of clothing in a subtle self-promotion. They stare at me until I speak, morphing their faces and darting their eyes as if to draw out the pointless words of greeting. With my hello, and a genuinely false promise of guarding their lives with my own, one by one they gingerly step forward and jump off the cliff. I don't even try to cover the coral-induced scars on my chest, as they never seem to ask, anyway. To them, I am a Hawai'ian, a superhuman swimmer, and as long as I am nearby, nothing can harm them.
They'll never know I'm just a Canadian with a tan, moved to the islands for a summer away from the cold, because they need me to be something more. We all want something to take home like a postcard and share with our friends, and if silence can make that happen, then silence is what I'll provide. They feel safer with the idea that I watch over them as they try their luck with the jump. In reality, on the rocks where I am sitting I cannot even see the water, let alone the family of tourists who are hurling themselves towards it. As I stand to walk away I glance down into the pool below, briefly, wondering to myself if you ever truly gain courage, or simply borrow it from someone else.