The author on left, with a SCUBA student 33 years ago.
Years ago, many years ago, like in a Star Wars scrolling intro long time ago, I worked my way through college as a SCUBA instructor. My summers were spent as a dive guide working out of a small dive shop in Tucacas, a run-down coastal village in Venezuela dedicated to booze, fishing, booze, booze, tourism and booze. Yes, the name Tucacas, for you Spanish speakers is a true and adequate descriptor of the town. The diving, though, was really good and it was a fun job. My days were spent at sea with happy vacationers diving on beautiful coral reefs and enjoying boat rides through the recently created Morrocoy national park. My late afternoons were busy times of running the air compressor and filling SCUBA tanks in preparation for the next day’s dives. Few if any tourists who pay good money for their vacation play enjoy gagging on salt water leaking through their regulators and down their throats; so my late afternoons were also spent repairing any faulty dive equipment. Most evenings I hung out at a beach club called, what else? – the Tucacas Beach Club, where tradition dictated that the diving tourists buy dinner for the dive guide. The beach club was located smack-dab in the middle of the migration route of tens of thousands of massive, purple- bodied land crabs which were genetically encoded to walk sideways in a straight line en route to their destination. Table legs, chair legs and human legs were obstacles to be run into and overcome as the rising tide of crabs moved inland to lay their eggs. At certain times of the year, the ground level, open-air dining room hosted not only a bunch of tourists but also a moving purple carpet of hundreds of scurrying crabs just passing through.
Most of our dive sites were anywhere from a half hour to an hour and half away from the dock. Cayo Sombrero, Playuelita, Cayo Medio, Playa Mero and Cayo Norte were some of the sites we would visit. Beautiful coral reefs and exotic tropical fish filled the transparent warm waters which were stacked high on a floor of perfect white sand. Speeding across the rolling blue seas in the No Hassle, our super-fast dive boat, almost always produced the ambiance for good conversations with the relaxed vacationing tourists. One of my repeat clients was a psychologist from Caracas. He would come to the dive shop with his teen-aged son. He was the goofy kind of psychologist who fit every stereotype of a shrink you ever had. He was a caricature of his profession. And he could not, or at least would not, make a space between his life and his work. Everything he did was an analysis of others. He was pleasant in a weird sort of way, but nuttier by far than any of his patients.
Bouncing, rolling and slicing through the warm southern Caribbean waves in our dive boat one day, this psychologist declared the reason I liked to SCUBA dive so much was that I was seeking the warmth and security of my mother’s womb. He was not joking. Because I tend towards gentleness and kindness I did not laugh out loud. My repartee was to ask him if the reason we tucked our chin to our chest and pulled our knees up when we rolled backwards off the boat into the water was in an attempt to recapture the fetal position. “Puede ser. Puede ser.” (It could be. It could be) was his reply. I had always scoffed at psychology, and this incident only served to further deepen my disdain for the Freudian follies of the head healers.
Those days in Tucacas were carefree. Those days were exciting. Those days were a lot of fun; but unfortunately I made enough money to ruin my life by being able to pay my way through college and thus passively get sucked millimeter by unsuspecting millimeter into the life-controlling, life-draining, materialistic quagmire called middleclass suburban America. Now, unfortunately, I am an adult, sadly and tragically much more so than when I was in my early twenties, back at a time when life was nothing but a fun and wild continuum of adventure after carefree adventure for which I got paid. Now life is all about making sure the mortgage is paid, the kids’ college is covered, and that our house in the suburbs doesn’t impact our neighbors negatively in anyway. Living the American dream is a never-ending nightmare of wanting more, buying more and then, like Tantalus, discovering that you are eternally just one possession short of happiness. At t the senior management level, work is filled with stresses and making solomonic decisions between conflicted parties (some of whom I would not mind cutting in two). Life and work at this level are filled with sleepless nights and chest-tightening conflict resolution. Life at this level is simply difficult, and I have to honestly say that sometimes I really miss the old life, when the greatest pressure was from 90 feet of warm transparent Caribbean sea water giving me a full body hug. Maybe the goofy shrink was half right.
At this point in the narrative, as a follower of Jesus, I’m supposed to report on a particular, special moment in my daily Bible reading and pull out a verse that I tell you changed my life and attitude and which gave me the strength and courage to go on. It didn’t happen, at least not today. Today’s passage was in II Peter 3, where Peter is telling us that Paul’s writings are hard to understand and that some readers twist them in harmful ways. Thanks Pete… like I really needed that today…..interesting but not what I was hoping for this morning. Maybe tomorrow I’ll discover the miracle scripture that will fix everything.
Now, three decades after my SCUBA guide days, I am no longer anti psychologist, particularly after my wife and I ran a safe house for abused women and children in Mexico for five years and were in desperate need of mental health professionals, not only for the women and children we hid but likely for ourselves as well. Being pro-psychology now doesn’t mean I accept the goofy shrink’s assessment of why I like to dive – that I am in pursuit of the security of my mother’s womb. I’m kind of Nicodemic* on that front. However, a roll over the gunnels of a dive boat and back into the warm embrace of the Caribbean would be nice about now as the pressures of work are many, the stresses of suburban American life are a Mount Everest of insurmountablity, and the struggle against the shallowness of relationships in the burbs is a never-ending battle yet to be won.
Maybe I should just throw my kayak up on the roof rack of my Subaru and take off for a few days to think in the solitude of God’s wonderful creation and clear my mind, which is a bit overcrowded with concerns these days. It has always worked before. I think I’ll do that – as soon as I can fit it into my schedule.
*Nicodemus was a Jewish religious leader who in a secret nighttime meeting with Jesus asked about how to initiate a proper relationship with God. Jesus told Nicodemus he had to be “born again.” In other words, all his hard work at self-salvation hadn’t amounted to anything and never would. At first Nicodemus didn’t get it because of his literal interpretation of Jesus’ words. Later evidence indicates he did become a follower of Jesus.