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Chapter One: The Fear
Like many who grew up in the Jaws era, I replay the ominous soundtrack every time I enter the ocean and never swim at night because I know how that turns out. For most of my life, I’ve had a pervading fear of sharks. From never swimming in pools at night to never going more than knee deep in the ocean, my fear was irrational but powerful, likely due to the Hollywood-created idea that sharks are ferocious beasts who intend to seek and kill humans.
Before I had three amazingly adorable ankle weights, I made a several-week pilgrimage to Hawaii. The trip was magical. I shed blood with the Fire Goddess Pele, conjured rides and places to stay on cue, and journeyed into the depths of the island on an impromptu midnight cave expedition.
Late one full-moon night, I sat at the edge of a hot pond, heated by volcanic energy and connected to the ocean. Lured by a local man who knew my fear of sharks and my insistence on never swimming at night, he asked me to trust him. Although this sounds like the beginning of my own horror movie, I somehow knew this moment was meant to be life-changing in a positive way. So, for some reason, I trusted him. He led me into the water. I could feel the cool waves blending with the warmth around my feet. Not knowing that there was a wall separating me from the monsters, I began to feel my fear with or in every breath. This moment was step one of my release.
Chapter Two: The Recurring Dream
My fear of sharks was so ever-present that I had nightly dreams of feeling the breath of the beast against my leg before waking. It was always the same. In my dream, I’m on a group tour of a movie studio set. I venture down a narrow pier to a small floating dock and turn to notice that the group has not followed me. In a moment of utter panic and impending death, I see that I am standing on the platform of a Jaws movie set meant to drop and demonstrate how savagely the nearby sharks attack the human dummies at my feet. The landing drops. I enter the murky unknown. I’m grasping for the dock post. Trying to pull my weight to the top, I feel hot breath against the back of my leg. I wake up in a pool of sweat.
Chapter Three: Facing the Fear
I had this dream for years, but one night, it was different. I begin to walk down the familiar pier but this time, a board beneath my feet creaks and lifts on one side as if missing a nail. The loose board shifts my focus and I become hyperaware of what was is about to happen. I look ahead and remember what will play out if I continue on — the panic of realizing that I’m not with the group, the dock dropping, and the breath on my leg.
In that one moment, I changed the course of my nighttime adventures forever. The loose board creaked below my feet and I turned around and joined the group, consciously leaving behind the fear of the shark. This time, I woke up with a sense of empowerment and freedom. Albeit in a dream, I had faced my fear a second and final time. And won.
Chapter Four: Turning Fear into Love
I’ve never had that dream again. I’ve replaced it with a love for all things shark-related, including collecting large teeth from the unfathomable creatures of days past. Although I still have a healthy respect for all ocean life, I have turned my fear into love, became a healthier and stronger person, and have only my fear to thank.