Outcomes Offered

■ Willingness to give something new a try

■ Acceptance that being scared can be okay

■ Acknowledgement that fears can be overcome

"I'm not afraid anymore," Tom announced as we were driving back to our tent, which was pitched at a tiny campsite right on the edge of the ocean. We had come here to see the coral reef, and swim with a huge shark.

Just two weeks before, my grandson, Tom, had been holding my hand tightly and didn't want to let go. We were snorkeling over another reef and, admittedly, this was only Tom's second or third attempt at snorkeling. New things can often be scary, and Tom didn't know what to expect. Feeling scared can be nature's way ofprotecting us from getting hurt. Tom certainly wasn't a wimp, just careful. It wasn't until after our snorkel that Tom told me he'd been thinking there might be sharks around . . . and felt scared. Better to be scared than eaten, says nature.

The day before Tom told me he wasn't scared anymore, we had been snorkeling again over the coral reef, when we saw a turtle at arm's length below us. Tom lifted his head, pulled out his snorkel and asked, "Can I touch it?" Wishing I could say yes, I shook my head. This was a national park. "Just look and enjoy."

But, the day of my story, something really changed. Tom and I swam with a huge shark. Called a whale shark, they can grow up to 20 yards long, though the one we swam with was only a young fellow at a mere 6 yards long. If he had been a human, he would still be in elementary school. The captain of our boat said they don't even begin to look for girlfriends until they get to about 9 yards.

Unlike a whale, which is a mammal and has to come up to breathe, the whale shark can keep swimming below water forever. It looks like a shark and has a big tail fin that sweeps side to side, unlike that of a whale, which moves up and down. It has a mouth big enough to swallow your average teenager but—thank goodness—unlike your average shark, it eats only tiny plankton and krill. It swims along with its mouth open like a gigantic vacuum cleaner, sucking up the microscopic food as it goes.

As we swam alongside this "gentle giant," as they have been called, Tom didn't even hold my hand! He was as excited as one could be for someone with a snorkel in his mouth and head underwater. He had just swum with the biggest shark in the world, and fear had given way to excitement. So when Tom announced, "I'm not afraid anymore," I was curious.

"What do you think has made the difference?" I asked him. "What has happened from just a couple of weeks ago, when you were gripping my hand with fear, to now? What have you done to snorkel confidently and excitedly on your own?"

"I don't know," Tom answered, thoughtfully. "Maybe it was just that I did it. Once you give it a go you discover that the fears are all in your head. I still felt a bit scared when I first saw the whale shark but then I realized it wasn't interested in us. I felt excited, too."

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