There is a ticker above my head that is counting down. I can’t see it, and have no idea when the countdown ends, but I know it’s started. Rheumatoid arthritis has laid a claim on my body, and has begun shaping my future, and I don’t get to know what that future looks like.
I’m angry. I’m depressed. I feel hopeless. I question everything that I had planned for my life. I question what is worth pursuing now. What is worth putting money and time into? Do I continue to improve my photography, knowing that at some point, I will have too much trouble with my hands to work a camera? What dreams do I continue to chase? I’m angry that I can’t answer any of those questions, or the countless others that creep into my thoughts. I know that an accident could happen at any time, and change everything, but that’s somehow more comforting than knowing that a slow creep towards “disabled” is now my reality. It’s my family’s reality. I didn’t, couldn’t choose this, but I feel guilty regardless. I don’t want to be a burden. I don’t want to slow us down.
With so much thought now of what my future holds, I’m looking at my list of things I want to do with a sense of urgency. The only thing on my bucket list that is a for-sure-cannot-miss event is “Pet a shark.” Not swimming near sharks, like you can do in an aquarium (although I could easily do so since I’m right by Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium). Not cage diving, either. I want to freely swim with wild sharks, and I want to touch them.
This isn’t an idea conjured up due to a mid-life crisis, or a subconscious death wish, and it didn’t happen after or because of my diagnosis. I’ve been fascinated with sharks since I was a kid. They don’t scare me. They evoke a very deep respect from me, as they should from anyone, considering sharks evolved 64 million years ago and haven’t changed since. And why should they? Even nature knows that you don’t fix what isn’t broken.
I’m 1,000 times more likely to drown than get bit by a shark, even free diving with them. I’ve researched how to make this dream happen, and going to Hawaii is the most practical method for us for many reasons, and O’ahu is home to the Pelagic Shark Program. The PSP focuses on shark conservation, research, and education. It’s not your usual tour- the PSP dives allow you to snorkel or freedive with sharks – no cages, no barriers. Sharks are not our enemies, and PSP strives to teach this.
In the end, maybe I won’t actually touch a shark, but just being in the presence of such animals frozen in time, evolutionarily speaking, will be worth it. This is a recent photo from their Instagram, and I look at this and just feel this sense of awe. It’s a priviledge to be able to share the ocean with a creature this amazing.
I’m busy now planning a trip to Hawaii. I’ve only been to a “sand and surf” beach once, back in 2008, when my ex and I vacation on South Padre Island. There’s the Puget Sound here, but it’s too cold to get in the water. I’ve always felt drawn to water, perhaps due to growing up in the Chihuahuan desert where water was so scarce. What better place to feed my need for water than a Hawaiian beach?
We will visit Pearl Harbor. My husband has a degree in History and is a history buff, especially anything military. Not going to Pearl Harbor on a Hawaiian vacation would probably result in divorce (mostly kidding).
There will be sunbathing and drinks under sunny skies.
There will be SO MANY PHOTOS of insects and plants.
Note: All photos in this post are royalty free photos. I did not take them and cannot take credit for them.
I haven’t chosen our hotels yet or laid out much of an itinerary, but the plan as it currently stands is to go to O’ahu first, then likely either Maui or Kauai. We’re hoping to do this next month, after Labor Day, when there’s less families visiting and hopefully more peace and quiet. I’m hoping to have a treatment plan in place by then, and less pain so that I can see more of the islands than I do the hotel room. Some days I do just fine, but others I have to take a nap by 2 pm. I’m planning this trip now because I’m afraid that if I wait too long, it will be too late, and I just want to pet a shark.