For those of you with a fear of marriage, read on to find out what true terror is …
I was about seven years old when I read the arresting account of a creature called an electric eel, which is capable of releasing a lively 600-volt jolt. I immediately imagined myself innocently splashing about as the 6-foot-long creature slithered up to my frolicking body and zapped me with enough juice to power the nation of Bolivia for a week.
It is therefore no surprise that I developed thalassophobia — the intense anxiety of being in the ocean, which, as we all know, is infested with zillions of eels that are gleefully anticipating the opportunity to latch on to my ankle, arm, ear, left nostril or any other available sector of my person that presents itself. (Ignore the fact that electric eels hang out in the Amazon Basin.)
To my credit, I suffer only from the nocturnal version of thalassophobia. I’m good with the ocean during the day. But I have a pathological fear of putting a toe into the ocean at night.
My fear of manta rays
So you can imagine my reaction when my wife, Dale, announced a “bucket list” wish to have us swim in the Pacific Ocean at night in the known feeding grounds of gigantic manta rays.
“I read that they will actually sometimes brush up against you as they scoop up plankton!” she said, beaming with anticipation.
After the paramedics revived me, I suggested that Dale may wish to see the movie Jaws or perhaps peruse Mr. Melville’s arresting account of a murderous white whale or reflect upon Jules Verne’s riveting story of being attacked by a squid the approximate size of an aircraft carrier.
“All fiction,” she replied.
“Ah, my adventurous but unenlightened bride, I draw your attention to the factual account of a ship steaming through the Strait of Malacca when the crew witnessed millions of venomous sea snakes slinking along in a 60-mile conga line. If that isn’t a sight guaranteed to make one experience a hygienic impropriety, I don’t know what is.”
Dale was disturbingly unperturbed.
“I already researched the manta dive,” she said, grinning. “It’s just 50 yards offshore, and the people who lead the tour have been doing it for well over a decade, and no one has ever had the slightest problem. This is something I would really like to do. It will be fun!”
Taking risks for each other
So I did it. For her. It was indeed without incident, unless you include under the category of “incident” the claw marks I made in the sand as I was dragged into the ink-black sea. Our guide did bring a flashlight, but it served primarily as a beacon for the eels and other sea critters who might have vision problems and required some assistance in locating my eminently chompable extremities.
Soon I was in the midst of a half-dozen manta rays. They glided through the water like elegant undersea birds, sometimes coming within an inch of my chest as I watched in awe. I would not have experienced this fantastic adventure were it not for my wife.
When it was my turn for a bucket-list item, I chose to venture inside a vintage World War II submarine. The USS Pampanito is moored in San Francisco, and when I found out we could tour it, I was beside myself with glee.
Dale managed to contain her enthusiasm.
“You want us to go inside a cramped, oily submarine? What on earth for? I don’t like tight spaces, and especially when they are underwater.”
But she did it. For me. Briefly. She shot from one end to another like a torpedo and then surfaced safely on the dock. I stayed for as long as they let me. It was bliss.
Let go of your fear of marriage
We’ve been stretching each other for 38 years. And I can tell you that marriage itself is the biggest bucket-list item of all time. Just signing on to be with each other, for better or for worse, come what may, wildly enlarges my life. So risky. So rewarding.
I have walked with Dale through her health scares, and she held my hand through a job loss and financial reversals. It has all been crazy risky stuff. And it is so much better when you do it together.
I’ve met a lot of younger folks who are putting off marriage for absurd amounts of time because they are afraid to commit. They see the statistics. They watched parents get divorced. They are scared. I get it. Yet I know these same young people will bungee jump, brew their own kombucha or binge-watch Netflix horror originals with the lights turned out. And they are well aware of the perils.
Yes, marriage is risky, but oh so different. With care, nurture, love and a deep reliance on God, we have far more control of the outcome than most of the scary things we ever consider doing. Even wading into a pitch-black sea.