When I swim in the ocean here in Southern California, I have to combat my Midwest tendencies to fear sharks in the water. Lots of people have this fear. It’s all Jaws-related. Even the Pacific’s gentle telepathic reassurances that she will protect me don’t totally erase my fear of sharks. But this swimming season, I have done pretty well, swimming out past where my feet can touch the bottom, trusting the mighty sea, and never being let down. Then I took my 5-year-old niece to the beach recently and while she was running from the tide on shore and screaming with glee, I waded out into the water. A young man with bronzed skin and a boogie board standing with his girlfriend stopped me. “Hey man, I wouldn’t go out there,” he said. “I’ve never said this to anyone before,” he continued, “but there’s a shark out there.”
“C’mon,” I said while my niece screamed and eluded another wave racing toward her.
“I’m from California,” he said, “I’m a beach bum. I’m always here. But I was out there just now and saw this huge shadow swim right next to me. For real..”
His girlfriend was really pretty..
“Will you protect me?” I telepathically asked the ocean.
“You will be protected,” she answered.
I shrugged to the young man, caught a look of shock in his girlfriend’s eyes and had one of my most pleasant swims. From the water I listened to my niece shriek with joy on shore and, after dunking my head underwater to see for massive, fast-moving shadows coming my way, heard the ocean laughing hysterically at me.