This is the second installment of this adventure by our scaredy-cat-scuba-diving-protagonist (me!) just after I abandoned a scuba dive that was planned for weeks by my dearest friends. I forced myself to re-enter the eel infested waters, at night, for a night dive deep into a famous WWII wreck of the USS Coolidge. I had just been abandoned by my dive buddy, the Dive Master Adam, as he helped another diver in distress…

As the rear dive guide, Adam has to rise to the surface with the other divers to see what is wrong. As he motions for me to remain (BY MYSELF) on the bottom, I know he has recognized a flaw in the plan

I don’t have a dive buddy. 

I am alone. 

Adam was my dive buddy as I voted myself “most likely to bail”. 

I then watch my buddy/guide/back-up-plan rise to the surface without me. He looks down in concern. I look up at him as he swims away and signal OK. I watch the rest of our dive teams swimming down, into the deep, away from me, the flashlight beams bobbing and growing smaller and smaller, leaving me alone, in the dark. 

 Interesting… I was still holding fast. Still enjoying the quiet. 

After a few minutes Adam returns. Adam is a steadfast guy. A guy a girl can depend on. I think I may love Adam. 

We are rejoined by the regrouped pair of divers from above and descend to about 65 feet. The fins of the advanced divers ahead of us are mere specs in the distance. The dive pair that has just returned from above has a repeat incident of panic and are “all done”. Adam again motions for me to wait (alone, in the dark, on the bottom of the ocean floor) because by now the main group is completely gone from sight. Adam again deserts me for the troubled diver. He is now so far up I can’t see him either (fickle man). 

It was like a cosmic underwater joke… well you think you can handle this… “how about now?”   

Yesterday I panicked and abandoned the entire dive. I kept waiting for it to happen again tonight. I keep breathing (not having-a-baby-style breathing, but just nice easy breaths). I think of how surprisingly ok I am here all alone. This is about as extreme an alone as alone can be. I don’t even have any music but my heartbeat and the only lyrics are the ones that come from my mind. (those can be as DARK as the Smiths if I am not careful, but not tonight). My heartbeat slows yet again and I become perfectly neutral in the water. I can breathe in and raise up and breathe out and sink down. Even my hair seems to be more calm as it sways gently above me. I move my flashlight about slowly and lazily, enjoying the peaceful zen-like state. My whole body shifting back and forth with the surf, yen and yang, to and fro… it’s calming. The percussive sound of the bubbles with my slow and easy breaths.. nice! 

A diver finally comes back, and it is… not Adam??!!! She motions to me that we are to go on ahead. She isn’t a local guide… she is Virago crew. With literally thousands of earthquakes a year I was counting on the local guides. The door to possible panic and titanic-esce Vanessa lyrics is opening slowly. I shrug my shoulders at the universe’s way of throwing me yet another curve ball. Who needs Adam? I say a prayer of thanks for this calm new me and give the OK sign, and down we go. We get to 85 feet and start swimming around the bow of the ship. We are immersed in complete darkness except for the narrow beam of exposed ship, coral, and the occasional fish reflected by our flashlights. 

Adam the-not-quite fickle does return and motions us to a tiny hole in the top of the ship.  He looks at me questioningly…. I look questioningly back. He then motions for me to swim in through the tiny hole and turn off my light. He wants to use only his light to light the way down into the bowels of the rusty old ship that keeps disintegrating with every earthquake. This was not the plan. I was supposed to have my own flashlight until I was “in position”. We were supposed to enter from the enormous cargo bay doors. I take an inner pulse, to see if there is any mounting panic? No, I am still maintaining inner peace.  I reluctantly give the “ok”. 

I turn off my last inch of sanity and weave my way in between metal beams. I’ve been told I’m a mermaid so without panicking the navigation is fun and fluid and I find the rest of the group huddled on the floor with their lights off. As soon as I sit down and hold onto a beam, the last flashlight clicks off and an amazing thing happens.

The water all around us lights up with thousands of tiny globes of light. They are moving gently in waves back and forth. They are called flashlight fish, but they must surely be water fairies or underwater fireflies. They are magical.  I am transfixed with wonder, laughing out loud with the joy of the discovery.  It is nice to see that part of me again. Before I am ready the time is up and we ascend gently, playing along the way with different fish and coral. Grudgingly I surface….and am met with the most awesome sight yet… the air is warm on my face and as I look up I gasp and again laugh out loud with joy… the sky is filled with stars that are achingly close. The southern cross beacons out like a special reminder to me. It is so much like the underground landscape it is breathtaking. It is a Good Plan. The weather here has been overcast so this brief moment of clarity is even more precious. Another reminder to me to receive the cloudy and dark times so I can truly appreciate the sunshine and warmth when it peeks out. 

I would be proud if the rest of my life could be defined by these 2 days. I faced paralyzing fear and was able to find my way into an experience that gifted me with breathtaking beauty. I could not possibly have appreciated the wonder of the night dive without the fear of darkness overcome the day before. I am grateful.

I learned it doesn’t matter if it is my flashlight or someone else’s, I can move through anything with grace if I just take a deep breath and have faith in the Plan. As a mother (and as a CEO) it is my job to stay calm and shine my flashlight where we need to go. I can lend my precious “dive buddies” confidence and security when they have none. I can appreciate the real and paralyzing fear they experience at times and the faith and courage it takes them to follow me. 

In these times of uncertainty and unrest we all need someone we can trust to shine a flashlight. Do you inspire trust in your team so they can follow you through the darkness? Who do you feel safe following in these dark times? If you enjoyed this edition of Unplugged Backtracks please subscribe. No change to the playlist of last week and the youtube video below is of the flashlight fish live from inside the USS Coolidge.

Copyright 2020 Vanessa Ogle All rights reserved.