Once in a Lifetime

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“Go on ahead, I’ll meet you all back here at the beach. I’d rather swim a bit before leaving the Island than see a sinking Church”, I laughed.

They went on ahead. Alone, finally.

I leave my stuff on a quiet spot in the sand. Taking off my prescription eyegloasses, my eyes adjust to the change in perception and for a moment I feel I am underwater already.

I step closer, my toes touching the softly difting waves that wash over the salt-and-pepper sand. I sigh in relief at this moment of peace. Never had I imagined being in Ireland, and never once had I stopped to consider how pristine and breath-taking this Gaeltachd would be. I step into the water.

Slowly, I enter the liquid serenity. The waves slip gently by around me, until I am out as far as my toes will touch in the sand, with only my head above the water. I dive in. Swimming has always been easy for me- water has always felt like my ‘safe spot’, my home. I feel my muscles relax from the initial tightness of the temperature difference, and I open my eyes to the blurring blue around me.

For an hour I swim, until the warm Irish afternoon sun brings a few more families down to the beach. Ignoring them, I dive in looking for rocks or shells. Mostly I find more of that white and black sand, but I don’t mind that… I am just happy to be in the water. I think about life back in Canada, and how this water is warmer even though we are at a different latitude in Ireland than we would be in Newfoundland. Such dramatic differences in temperature and climate, and all due to the currents…

I gasp, suddenly spotting a dark shape out of the corner of my left eye.

‘Just a patch of seaweed’, I think.

But… it is moving!

Closer it comes, and I realize this shape is HUGE! I have never encountered anything like this in the water, and my heart jumps into my throat as I consider what to do. Should I run? I take a few tentative steps away before I realize no WAY would I be fast enough- I am neck-deep in water and this shadow is coming straight at me! I turn to face it.

It flashes by me and then circles me. It heads between the shore and myself and I look back, realizing the family on the beach sees it too. We are all frozen, confused… startled.

“DOLPHIN!” The curly blonde-haired girl of six shouts from the shoreline! “Dolphin!”

Relief floods me like a burst dam, pouring over my panicked mind until I am left standing in this strange land, laughing as though I lack sanity. ‘Dolphin?’ I think.

The creature pokes its head above water, giving just a moment where it seems to at once consider me in the water and the little girl on land. We are both laughing along with her family, unsure of what to do. The dolphin ducks below the surface once more and I wait, tensing a bit as it swims back toward me. It circles and goes out a bit further, then turns. It is coming back!

This time, I do not know what to think… instead, I react. I reach my hand out ever so gently beside me as the shadowy figure comes back toward me. It circles me a third time, and on that pass it went under my hand! It was smooth, and almost rubbery in texture. I just touched a dolphin! In the wild!

My laughter bubbles up again as the dolphin flips it’s tail and swims away. I wait a few more minutes to see if it would come back, but it had gone out further into the ocean. Shaking and breathless, I slowly went in to shore.

“Did you see that?!” I ask the family, incredulous of the experience. I could see my friends approaching in the distance from their adventure, oblivious to what just transpired.

The little girl gives me a grin the size of Innish Mor and says, “You swam with the dolphin!”

Her father replies, “Once in a lifetime, that is. Once in a lifetime!”

An Ocean Storytelling Showcase submission by Cordelia McCrillis