Breathing underwater (“Peeling Oranges” series)

(The Red Sea coast along Jordan is known for its beautiful coral reefs and clear water, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to snorkel for the first time in Aqaba a few weekends back.)

I jump from the boat into a blue-green splash, and a taste of saltiness washes through my mouth.  Gasping and spitting, I bob to the top, stretching my lips over the slimy mouthpiece.  My breathing sounds hollow and heavy as it rises and echoes through the plastic tube.

I’m nervous, wondering how, with tired and cramping legs, that I’m not sinking to the bottom.  Trying to calm myself, I let my face sink below the surface, and look to my neon flippers, realizing that their slow swishing keeps me afloat.

My rigid hands loosen, and I drift over the coral mounds, with their dips and divots, creases and cracks.  Like flowers growing up in the desert, the sea anemone burst forth from the sand, and orange clown fish with glowing blue eyes wiggle through their small garden homes.

The water was the clearest I've ever seen. The coral was easily visible above the water.

Sometimes, my peace is broken and I’m overcome with moments of fright.  I sink into my familiar nightmares—swimming, lost in deep water, unable to find the surface.  I come up panting after a jellyfish appears near my face.  I spin around when a fellow swimmer brushes against my leg.

But the beauty around me keeps calling me back from my fears, to be calm.  Through my foggy mask I see at once the jagged orange mountains of the coast and the sun-streaked sea, bluer than the sky.

I float among pink plankton and reach out to touch wrinkly corals, brains that know God better than we ever will.

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