Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Fear of Sharks

A few weeks ago while I was at my parents’ house in Chicago, Hank wrote to me about what he called “a beautiful experiment in parenthood.” He screened the movie Jaws to his two young sons.

He was careful to preface every scene with that was about to happen and how it was different from what real sharks will do. The boys even laughed at the girl being dragged around in the opening scene. The juvenile mind found its own. At the end, everyone was fairly entertained and agreed that no fish would ever do that in real life.

About an hour later, I find myself flipping through the channels and see slightly grainy footage of 70s-era teenagers hanging out on sailboats. I hear the telltale two notes that signal that Jaws is coming. For the first time, I don’t change the channel. I think of Zan & Jonah and remind myself that real fish don’t act like this. When Jaws emerges, I notice how his flesh looks like metal and his eyes are expressionless. He looks like, well, a robot, which I suppose is exactly what he’s always been. I don’t know how it could have taken me this long to recognize this. I watch the whole movie and find myself giggling at how silly the story is. I cheer and laugh out loud when the shark gets caught on the power line and explodes into ash.

In the following days and weeks, I find myself captivated with any and all images of sharks being shown. I watch a shark fishing show with my family and see how easily and brutally the fishermen take down huge beasts even while drinking Coors Lite. When they announce that a second whale shark at the Atlanta Aquarium died, I obsessively check the news stations for updated information on what happened. I feel my heart heavy for a couple days for the loss of this creature that I’ve never even seen. I watched a PBS program about the first great white shark to survive in captivity for an extended period of time at the Monterey Aquarium. She swam in an almost spooky way but was beautiful and graceful all the while.

I can’t help but ask myself “is that it?” Does this mean that a lifelong oppressive and irrational fear is gone? Will I be able to swim in the ocean without keeping my eyes on my toes and jumping if anything brushes up against my skin?

I keep thinking about the “skin” of Jaws in contrast to the tender, sleek flesh of the baby great white in Monterey. Both make me smile now. I look forward to more.

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