I met an unassuming, quiet girl this week during my working day. She wasn’t feeling very well throughout the trip to sea and she lay at the bow of our boat under layers of clothing and towels. She was mostly fast asleep all morning, curled up small and unresponsive to me trying to assist. I didn’t spend a great deal of time with her – knowing she wouldn’t want to talk when she felt so seasick. She appeared to be your regular young girl on holiday with her boyfriend, perhaps straight out of university, and I left her in peace to rest.
I met a confident, gentle, well spoken Asian lady this week during my working day. She was on her honeymoon and she joined our boat for the day with her husband. Whilst the other guests onboard couldn’t decide whether to go shark diving she was the first to volunteer and she calmly got ready with her husband by her side, slid into the cage and they enjoyed their first dive with a beautiful white shark. I admired her confidence, her ease at being the first to volunteer without hesitation on what was a cold and foggy day. She was tranquil in a situation that most people find challenging at first if they have not dived with sharks before. I assumed she must be a regular diver with plenty of experience; she had the grace of a mermaid.
I meet different people every day in my work, from all walks of life and they come to spend time on our boat for many reasons. Part of the joy of my work is getting to know these guests, hearing their life stories and being inspired by who they are. Everyone has a story, absolutely everyone, and it is a privilege to be able to listen to their stories when they decide to share them and take home their words of wisdom and apply them for my own growth.
I love sharing my knowledge as their guide on our marine safaris but I wonder if they realise they also guide me?
So, these two guests I mentioned earlier…When we returned to the harbour I escorted our group to the shop for mugs of tea, hot chocolate and coffee. Hands were warmed around colourful mugs; steam rising to soothe cold cheeks as it had been a brisk morning in the elements. I was afforded more time to get to know the guests as they shared their excitement at seeing the sharks and other wildlife. I asked the quiet young girl if she was feeling better now that we were ashore. What followed was a conversation in which she explained to me she was visiting Cape Town to investigate moving here in the next couple of years and because she was celebrating opening her first school in Tanzania.
She is from Italy and has spent the last few years working in Tanzania with local underprivileged children and one day decided to build a school for them. She has funded it herself, built the school, obtained the teaching materials and books from overseas, will be teaching the children and is training the future teachers. She has achieved this on her own, overseas, away from family support and her school is opening next week.
By the way, she is 24 years old.
She had the good grace and honesty to laugh and admit that most people are surprised when she explains what she has achieved. She knows she looks like every other girl her age, dressed in the latest cool clothing, and hanging out with her peers. Yet one day she woke up and decided she wanted to create a school so she did it. Without any prior experience or qualifications to do so. I was speechless at how she had a dream, a BIG dream, decided that it would happen and made it so. She didn’t tell herself she couldn’t do it, she didn’t give up and she didn’t expect others to make it happen for her. She just took one step at a time, tackled each hurdle with confidence. Her walk turned into a run and now she is considering where to open her next school.
Remember the confident gentle honeymooner that was first into the cage? As we talked about how much she enjoyed her cage diving experience her husband gently took her in his arms and told me this; with an incredibly proud and loving smile upon his face and in his eyes:
His wife only learned to swim four weeks ago. She was terrified of water, absolutely terrified and throughout her life she had only been able to go calf deep in water before having a panic attack. She literally fell apart mentally at the thought of going into water but she wanted to overcome this fear so she could cage dive with her husband. She wanted to give him this gift with all her heart and so she spent time with a coach in the final weeks before her wedding, learning to swim and overcome her fear. As if pre-wedding preparations and stress were not enough, she took on this challenge as well. It turns out that on our boat she was terrified, she didn’t want to get in the water at all and she felt her old familiar panic rising at the prospect of not only being in deep water but also with a shark nearby. Yet she did it without a word of complaint or hint of nervousness to the guests and crew around her. She did it, she loved it and the look in her husband’s eyes told me everything I needed to know about overcoming your fears and about true love.
We are so much more than we appear to be to the world around us and first impressions, whilst important, can be so misleading. They are subjective and based upon peoples’ own experiences in life and their own judgements and expectations. They are a trick of the mind and only a tiny flavour of the depths we all hold.
I never would have known from the demeanor of those two guests that each would have such a story to tell. I was wrong about them and these two people left a lasting impression.
The stranger in the street, your colleagues, your loved ones, the people that pass you by as you walk your life. They are where the real magic lies, where you can find everything you need to encourage and inspire you if only you truly see them without judgement. Let them in just the way they are and listen with your heart rather than your subjective mind.
As I left work that day I was reminded just how important it is that we all hold back from judging people if we are to let them in. Not only when we first meet someone but throughout our time together. To really get to know someone, to let them truly touch our hearts we must let go of our expectations and our own history. Only then can we see the real person, hear the real story and go home to share it with others. Go home and cosy up with a mug of steaming tea, a smile in our eyes and the phrase
You’ll never guess what happened to me today