Rule One was to just breathe normally.
Rule Two was to remember to have fun.
For something as complicated as S.C.U.B.A*, with all the hoses and gauges and that big, heavy tank, you’d expect maybe a few more rules than that. Like an entire rulebook that reads like stereo instructions or at least one of those fancy armbands that NFL quarterbacks wear.
I’ve been on cruises and Caribbean vacations, but somehow I’d never been snorkeling or scuba diving. I think that mostly stems from my desire to spend as much time as possible on vacation either a) napping, b) consuming vacation beverages, c) lounging on a beach with a book, or d) all of the above. You’ll note that nowhere does "spend potentially significant amounts of money pretending to be something other than terrestrial species" appear on that list.
The ocean water is very pretty, of course, and lots of people enjoy it, but I’m quite content with a book and a drink with a paper parasol, thank you.
It’s coincidentally amusing, then, that something else not typically me ended up getting me into a pool of water with a scuba tank attached to my back in the middle of land-locked Northern Kentucky. Which is exactly where I found myself Saturday, on an excursion with the older boys’ Cub Scout troop.
That’s not to say I dislike the Cub Scouts or anything. But as I’ve noted before, it’s just not me. It wasn’t me as a kid (I was never a Scout), and it still isn’t me now. When it comes to the Pinewood Derby, I’d perform better if they had maybe a video game version where you decked out your cars and raced digitally. And I’ve always thought camping out is great fun, as long as it includes a 27 foot-long RV with electrical and plumbing hookups.
Sleeping on the ground is fine for bugs and four-legged animals, but I bought a perfectly good bed a few years back; seems silly not to use it.
Which is all to say, of course, that when the zombie apocalypse comes and society crumbles, I’m probably screwed as a survivor. But I think I can live with that.
Anyway, so I went to the scuba dive center with my two older sons on Saturday, and we jumped in the pool and donned the well-known equipment. We learned underwater hand signals, to squeeze your nose and blow to pop your ears as the pressure changes, and how to make the tank/vest more or less buoyant. Then they turned us loose in 12 feet of water, and not one of us surfaced until the instructors shepherded us back to the World Above.
What struck me almost immediately was how insane the whole thing seemed. Before going under the first time, with the regulator mouthpiece firmly clenched between my teeth like a horse’s bit, a distant cloud of panic exploded in some far off corner in the back of my head.
"This is ridiculous. People don’t breathe under water. There’s no air. In 2 minutes you’re going to be blue like Papa Smurf and your eyes will be bulging out of their sockets!"
But then I remembered Rule One: Breathe normally.
So I did just that.
And then I dropped my face in the water and kept on doing it. Oxygen miraculously filled my lungs. When I exhaled, carbon dioxide bubbled away in a sheet just in front of my face, giving the whole thing a kind of fairy tale transitional feel (you know, like when Ariel realizes she’s in trouble and then bubbles cut to a scene with the mean Sea Witch).
After a few minutes of getting used to it, you forget all about the equipment and just do what want to do, hardly even aware you’re underwater. Every now and then, though, it would occur to me where we were and what we were doing, and an angry bees’ hive-like buzzing sense of panic would bloom again in that dark recess in my mind.
Then again I’d remember Rule One, and the distant hint of panic would go away.
Which would allow me to get back to Rule Two, the having fun.
After some pre-measured amount of time known only to our scuba instructors — it could have been ten minutes or ten hours, really, because time didn’t seem to work underwater — we were directed back to the surface to dry off and return to our previous lives as terrestrial mammals.
Which is fine, really, because I needed to get home to make dinner. Eating doesn’t work so well with a scuba regulator in your mouth.
Much later that night, I grasped the more fundamental lesson at work here.
Most of your life, you’re probably going to be underwater in one sense or another. If you want to make the most of it anyway, you only have to follow two simple rules:
Rule One: Remember to breathe.
Rule Two: Have fun.
Because if you can’t follow those two rules, you’re going to embrace the panic instead and end up floundering, Smurf-blue and bug-eyed.
The boys and I had a great time learning to scuba dive, and I’m thankful the Cub Scouts gave us the opportunity (although I’m sticking to my camping-is-better-in-an-RV assertion).
Even more, though, I’m thankful of the reminder about how to win at Life, above or below water.
Those are two rules everyone should remember.
*The word "scuba" is based on an acronym (Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus), so you know the word geek in me had to present it that way at least once.