This story was written as a parenting tool around the importance of listening to our intuition.
I had just turned 50. There had been lovely celebrations with family and friends, but now I wanted to mark it in some way, just for me. How? One day I was idly flicking through a holiday brochure when I saw a special offer for two weeks in Egypt, in February. What really got my attention was it included getting a diving qualification I had always wanted. Perfect.
I knew I had made the right decision the moment I arrived in Sharm el Sheik. It was the familiarity of Egypt and I was in my air, plus I had never been to the Sinai. I was curious to visit St. Catherine’s Monastery, at the foot of Mount Sinai, together with the Chapel of the Burning Bush where Moses, apparently, had an epiphany. After the diving, at the end of my trip, I hoped to swim with a dolphin I had heard about. She had been separated from her pod and her story struck a chord with me.
The stress of a long-distance relationship was causing endless arguments and ‘silent treatment’ which would always end in me booking an impromptu surprise trip home to try and reconcile, despite this we survived to see out my graduation. 18 months later, we were wed. It was impulsive and frantic… and controlled. One thing that remained consistent throughout was the pattern that followed, one of immense highs followed by immense lows. I would be idolised one day, to disappointing him and feeling at a loss the next.
Aziz, my guide, was at the airport. I guessed he was about 25. He had a beautiful speaking voice which was quite mesmeric at times. He was very engaging, asking me what I wanted to do as well as diving. When I mentioned the monastery, he said “Did you know St. Catherine came from Alexandria? I had to study all about her at University. I also learned that the Bedouins around the monastery are Christians and when the Seven Day War in the Sinai happened it was very dangerous for them.” I didn’t know any of this.
He came across as genuinely knowledgeable about the history of the Sinai, from ancient times to modern. “Would you like to go tomorrow?” He asked. I was delighted and looked forward to an interesting day. He also reminded me that it was Ramadan and people could be a bit edgy at this time from fasting and following the religious laws. I hadn’t realised I would be there during Ramadan, another first.
Driving through the desert was heaven; I just loved the energy of tranquillity despite the troubles that had taken place during the war. I knew there were still peacekeeping forces based there, but on that day it felt beautifully calm. Finally, we reached the Monastery. It was very dark inside and extremely redolent of other Greek Orthodox churches I had seen in Europe. Lots of hanging lamps and it smelt of sweet, ancient, incense that belonged to another time, cloying rather than exotic.
I felt claustrophobic and wanted to leave when a drawing of fairies caught my eye. “How strange” I thought to myself. It felt slightly out of place. I studied the fairies for a while, fascinated. Outside, I just glanced at the chapel of the Burning Bush, wondering what kind of epiphany Moses had really had. I was very glad to listen to Aziz’s stories about his life in Cairo as we drove back to Sharm and the feeling of darkness in the church disappeared.
The course started the next day. From then on, each morning, I would walk along the beach to the diving centre with a real sense of freedom and excitement. In the evening I would walk back with a real sense of achievement. My teacher’s surname bizarrely was Love and we went diving at a place called Temple. This made me smile every time I thought about it. I loved every minute of discovering the world deep below the surface of the sea. I loved all the different fish, so unafraid and playful, particularly the clown and angel fish swimming around our bodies like underwater butterflies. Varieties of coral I had never seen before, sea cucumbers in different shapes and sizes… Nearer the surface the colours were vibrant and the deeper we went the colours disappeared. Sound became distorted and my sense of direction changed. Not all the fish were playful and a shoal of barracudas reminded me that we were in shark territory too. Exciting! I could understand why drug addicts liked diving. The deeper you went it became very disorienting in a strangely seductive way with the added spice of danger. Memories of my younger days began surfacing. However, the older me understood the golden rule about not diving alone and having a buddy. The importance of using regular signals to stay in touch and checking each other’s equipment. It was still magical, till the fourth day.
When I asked him about Ramadan because of the time, he just shrugged. “Oh I don’t really follow all the laws.” It was a hot balmy night and we talked amiably until quite late. Having company that evening helped and the next day I walked along the beach feeling better and ready to overcome my blocks to hovering. Ms Love had asked the head instructor to help us. Very gently he asked me what it was that bothered me about hovering. After a while, I had a memory of my grandmother hovering around me when I got back from school. I realised I had a problem with the word itself! I used to be very sensitive to her invasion of my space.
“Can you think of something to replace that image.” he said softly, almost innocently. “Yes, yes I can.” I remembered the drawing of the fairies. “I can happily imagine being a fairy”.
From then on I sailed through the course, the magic was back and I got my qualification with flying colours. Ms Love was pleased and I was thrilled. When I saw Aziz later he was pleased for me too. “How are you going to celebrate?” He asked. I realised I wanted to know if it would be possible to drive out to the beach where the dolphin was.
“Of course” he said. “Everything is possible”. He arranged for us to have a driver and go the next day. He said it would take a while to get there so we would be gone the whole day. We set off quite early and Aziz sat in the back with me. To begin with I was looking out the window drinking in the energy of the desert, spotting the odd Bedouin child with their camels.
At some point, I became more aware of Aziz, his physical closeness, but ignored it as I thought it was my imagination. The feeling of closeness changed, started to become intrusive, and, at the same time, I sensed the car was slowing down. I saw the driver look at Aziz in the mirror and then everything slowed down. I had experienced this stillness before, years before. A decision was being made. I knew what that decision was. Somewhere in my head I heard my godmother’s voice saying “Don’t do anything, don’t even ask the Universe for help. Just listen to my voice. Remember you don’t have a bad bone in your body.” My eyes slid away from the mirror. I somehow disappeared into her voice, floated in space.
I became aware of the car picking up speed again and Aziz’s closeness receding. I went back to looking out the window and eventually we arrived at the beach where the dolphin was. I have no idea how I managed to get to a rickety shack of a toilet. I was sick, my knees giving way, I held onto the basin. From somewhere I remembered Aziz saying he couldn’t swim. I needed to feel safe, get into the sea with the dolphin without appearing to hurry. When I did, this incredible creature seemed to know how much I needed her. She nuzzled me gently, again and again. She kept giving me comfort, reassurance, circling me and nuzzling again. Her grey body soothing and, in turn, I recognised her loneliness at being separated from her pod. We swam together in mutual understanding like a healing balm. I was so grateful for her companionship but eventually I had to get out of the water. I got back into the car wet, wrapped up in my towel like a cocoon, still wanting the connection with the sea and the dolphin.
Strangely enough the journey back to the hotel was much shorter. When we got there, I got out of the car, not bothering to say goodbye. I sat in the lobby for a while with a sense of relief, watching the other guests going about their business. Eventually I felt able to pick up my key and head for my room. As I got closer uneasiness crept in. The door was slightly ajar. I pushed it wide open without actually stepping in. There was Aziz on my bed, stark naked! For a nanosecond I struggled between rage and laughter.
He looked strangely vulnerable, like a little boy. With all the assurity of 50 years, I said “For fuck’s sake, get dressed and leave. I am old enough to be your mother.” “Oh no you’re not. My mother is 70” was the petulant answer. He wasn’t 25 after all.
Whilst he got ready, I sat in the sun outside still wrapped in my towel, aware that the sea had dried out leaving a layer of protective salt on my skin. I left the next day and, when I got back home, I sent Aziz The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I was grateful, I had truly learned to dive and hover.
Do I tell the girls? The girls being my granddaughters, and the answer is yes, when the time is right. I will also tell them how I recognised the stillness. Sometimes we hover, sometimes we fight. My granddaughters are twins of three. Feisty little girls with strong personalities which disguise a fragility both influenced by their age and, I suspect, their fundamental characters. I wrote this story now as I may not be around when they are young women but I know their mother will pass this on to them when the time is right if I haven’t been able to.
What would my advice to them be? To start off with, be aware of the environments, cultures, traditions you find yourselves in, be respectful whether you agree with these or not – being defiant and provocative rarely works. We make assumptions whether we are old or young and we can definitely teach our children to be aware of our own prejudices and simply to be ‘aware’. My story is really about how important our intuition is and ultimately that is what saved me then and at other times. Parents need to work on their own intuition and can begin to encourage their children to value their intuition. Then they can see how it guides and supports them, rather than depending on logic alone. The best advice I heard given to children was, rather than “never talk to strangers”, when a ‘yes feeling’ changes to a ‘no feeling’ trust it and get away preferably calmly. I taught this to myself and my children and it works. Being afraid of everyone doesn’t work and a child’s world can become very small taking that fear into adulthood. By the same token, my advice to parents is to get help and support if they have experienced any traumas so it is not passed on to their children.
This was originally printed in Volume 9 of The Wildling magazine