Have you ever seen a parrotfish up close and in person? They are magnificent! Also called the “rainbows of the sea,” they flash neon pink, yellow, and blue, while playfully inviting you to follow them deep into the sea. Parrotfish are able to change their sex when needed for procreation and make pajamas out of their own mucus so they’re protected from predators while they sleep. They are also known for eating coral and pooping sand.
I went most of my life without seeing a parrotfish. Growing up in Ohio, diving into deep water wasn’t really my thing. My parents got me an above-the-ground swimming pool, hoping that I’d grow more comfortable in the water. I suppose I did, but only while I floated in the four-foot deep crystal-clear basin on a raft half the size of the pool. Back and forth I went, constantly bumping into the sides of my shallow and safe containment.
When I moved to Florida in my late twenties, it seemed everyone was frolicking in deep water. I received invites to swim, snorkel, and dive, none of which I accepted. I couldn’t fathom going in the vast Gulf of Mexico, unable to touch the bottom or see the other side. And, being under the water terrified me. I felt out of control and unable to protect myself.
And then, there were the sharks.
But when I started dating my husband, David, he invited me to go snorkeling over and over until I relented. He, as it turned out, was an underwater rock star who couldn’t wait to take me to his favorite snorkeling spot–—the waters off Key West. “It’s so peaceful under the sea,” he said. “It’s so quiet and beautiful,” he assured me. “There’s nothing like it in the whole world,” he promised.
“But what about the sharks?” I asked.
“They won’t bother us,” he said. After we were all geared up in snorkels and fins, David dove into the water, disappearing for a few seconds. When he emerged, he motioned repeatedly for me to jump in.
I shook my head and instead clumsily slid into the water off the back of the boat. David held my hand and encouraged me to put my face in the water. I finally did, and as we began to kick in unison, I loosened up a bit. Maybe the deep water wasn’t so scary after all.
Within seconds of relaxing, a six-foot-long shark swam about fifteen feet in front of us. I gasped. David squeezed my hand twice and pulled me forward.
I heard his voice, soft and reassuring in my mind, “Be brave. Keep going.”
And we did. As we got closer to the reef, the bottom of the ocean lit up with brilliantly colored fish. But, of all the fish, there was one I couldn’t look away from. A wondrous, neon creature with a mouth shaped much like a beak.
I pointed at them all swimming under and over us. I had never, in person, seen anything so brilliant, beautiful, and unique. I felt God’s presence there in the deep, unknown water. Sure, there were scary moments that challenged my courage, but there was also a mystical beauty that can only exist thanks to Divine energy.
It’s easy to live in the shallow, isn’t it? To stay where it’s safe and predictable. Where you know everyone, and you see the same things every day. But the shallow can also be where we stunt our emotional, spiritual, and intellectual growth. And maybe worst of all, if you’re floating around in a four-foot deep existence, with your raft continually bumping up against the sides, you’ll never see the real beauty that’s out there.
The stuff that God made for us all to see.
The stuff that makes you gasp with wonder.
It can be scary to go deep, and even scarier to dive right in. But when you do, you will see how brave you are. How full of courage and determination. You will learn how long you can hold your breath and when you need to come up for air. You will not only see brilliant color, but you will feel it in the seat of your soul.
And if you’re really lucky, you’ll see a transgender parrotfish snacking on some coral.