I want to tell you about the wall. Yes, the wall. But no, not that one.
The wall I’m thinking about barred me, for decades, from another and altogether different sort of world. It’s not a very strong wall. In fact, I can stick my fingers through it with less effort than it takes to type these words. But it’s still foreboding and impenetrable, as impenetrable as a sheet of steel — or of water.
Yeah, water. You’d be surprised just how tough such a wall can be.
Last Tuesday, I thought about that wall of water all the way to Seaventures. It’s a place where they teach people how to break through watery walls and enter into the brand-new world on the other side.
You’ll recall that about a year ago my daughter gave me, for Christmas, a course in scuba diving. I’d always been fascinated by scuba. As a child I spent untold half hours in front of our black and white TV watching Mike Nelson have all sorts of undersea adventures on Sea Hunt. Later, I’d daydream about what it would be like to experience such adventures myself.
But those thoughts never went much beyond speculation until the daughter of gave me the possibility for Christmas. And now, with the class scheduled, I’m committed.
Eric, who will be one of my instructors, tells me I’ll have no trouble. He says I’ll love it.
“You can do this!” he says.
So here I am, according to Google Maps just 0.4 miles from my destination. There’s no turning back now.
I arrive, park, and sit for a moment. Do I really want to do this? Do I really want to leave all this perfectly good air and enter a world that’s 100 percent H-2-O?
“You can do this!” my daughter had said. “I know you can!”
“You’ll do great!” Wife of Mine had added, encouraging, cheerful, smiling.
So I take a deep breath. I climb out of the truck and hoist my gear bag and swing it over my shoulder and then, slowly, start the walk.
Somebody opens the door of the shop for me. I walk in.
“Hello, Mr. Hudson!” Eric calls, cheerful and enthusiastic. “You’ve got this, Mr. Hudson!” he adds. “You can do this!”
I’m one of a class of six. There are two teens (one received the class as a birthday present, and his brother wanted to do it too), another teen and his dad (learning together so they can dive together), and a lady who wants to learn scuba so she can dive with her daughters. I learn this as we make our introductions.
I read “togetherness” between the lines of the introductions, and there does indeed seem to be a lot of community in the world of scuba. Chelsea, also one of our instructors, talks about how you’ll meet a diver here one summer and then run across that same diver a year or two later in some far-flung corner of the planet. Community. I like that. Community means like-minded people, and in this world more of it.
Instruction begins. We learn things. Then, says Eric, “Let’s head out to the pool!”
The pool is warm by pool standards, and it’s where we don masks snorkels and dive boots and fins. So far, so good!
Then, much sooner than I’d expected, we are strapping ourselves to metal tanks. Atop each tank is “the thing with the hoses,” as I once called it — that is, the pressure regulator system that converts high-pressure air to something we people can handle. One of the hoses ends in the “regulator,” which I now clamp in my mouth. Through it, I am told, I can breathe.
Uh-oh. There’s the word.
“…so put your face in the water and try taking a few breaths,” Eric is saying to the group. We are, at that point, standing in the shallow end. The water is about 4 feet deep.
“You can do this!”
Right about there, I start to think about what I am about to do. I mull it over, examining possibilities.
That is my mistake. I feel a tiny ripple of edginess disturb the once-calm surface of my mind. The ripple gathers, grows, rises into a wave that breaks over me even as it asks what seems, at the time, to be a perfectly reasonable question: Why do I want to leave all this perfectly good air and go, intentionally and on purpose, through the wall at the edge of my world and into the world of water?
“…because it will be the most amazing thing you have ever done!” I think Eric said that. Or maybe it was me talking to myself.
It requires an act of will, but I push my face through the surface. One part of my brain says “No!” but another says “You can do this” and I remember the first rule of scuba diving (“Breathe!”) but my brain says “don’t breathe, dummy, you’re underwater” even as my still-rudimentary training says “yes-you-can-yes-you-can!” (wow) and so I do and at last, very tentatively, take just one little puff.
Lo and behold, the regular is working. Air flows. I am immensely encouraged by this discovery, for that means I am not going to die, standing there in 1.3 yards of water.
I take another swig of air, blessed air. It is successful too.
Lo and behold, I am underwater. And I am breathing.
What happens next? Quite a lot. Some of it I’m proud of. Some of it is frankly a bit embarrassing. But through it all, those four words (“You can do this!”) echo (whisper?) in my mind.
“It is simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying,” I tell my wife later, trying to put it all into words.
Next time I’ll tell you how it turns out.