Journalist, author, screenwriter Chris Jones joined a 2016 French Polynesia recon expedition as Sven Lindblad’s guest. Chris’ story, originally published on Twitter as consecutive posts, is a testament to the transformative magic of the sea.
As some of you know, 2016 was a bad year for me. I lost my job in May, my marriage in July. I rented a literal tiny house. I made a full Christmas dinner, my first, and then I remembered I didn’t own a table and chairs anymore. My children ate off their laps.
Things began to improve, but slowly, and the gains always felt tenuous. When your world collapses, it’s hard to trust anything beneath your feet. I had lost my faith in the universe. I was, perhaps for the first in my life, a pessimist.
One day the phone rang. It was Sven Lindblad, of @LindbladExp. I’d taken a Lindblad expedition to Antarctica—magic—and I had kept in touch with folks there since. (Hi Patty!) Holy cats, that was a phone call. Let me tell you.
Sven invited me and my new girlfriend, Ana, to join him in French Polynesia. He was chartering a boat to design a cruise to the Tuamotus. He knew I love to SCUBA dive (I’d tried to snorkel in Antarctica: no) and had been having a hard go. “Join us,” he said. “It’s what you need.”
Good friend to have! My girlfriend got her certification, and we flew to Tahiti in April 2017. We did some amazing dives together—walls of sharks, dolphins, turtles—in the most incredible water: clear, warm, unbelievably blue. I could feel my spirits lifting. It was a physical feeling.
Then Sven and Vincent, our dive master, decided to go for a snorkel. I don’t know why, but I didn’t go. They came back raving, totally lit up: They had seen a huge manta ray. Massive, gorgeous, soaring through the ocean like a giant bird.
Now, understand: I’ve dived for 30 years. I had never seen a manta, the creature I’ve most wished to see. And now I’d just missed one. Of course I had. Everything was shit, even in French Polynesia. I was lucky once, but now I was not. Right back where I started.
That afternoon we went for a dive. I tried to hope that the manta might still be around, but it was a faint hope, almost phony. The ocean is a really big place. But I wanted to believe that manta might show up. I might have even prayed for it to show up.
I had my head down, looking at some coral. Sunrays sliced down to the bottom. I looked at my girlfriend and marveled a little at life. When suddenly I was in a shadow—an enormous shadow, like a plane was flying overhead. I looked up, and:
There she was. Circling over me. Again and again, just saying hi. You can’t see in the picture (that’s me with no wetsuit, because my fat keeps me warm), but I began crying my eyes out. That manta stayed with us for nearly an hour. I know it’s crazy, but I felt like she knew.
Sven was right: I needed that. I felt lucky again. I still do. These are terrible times. Try to believe that there will be a blessing for every curse. A kindness for every cut. Try to remember that right now, there are manta rays, swimming in the ocean. One is waiting for you.
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