My dive buddy helps me see beneath the surface

I walked out on the dock looking for the dive boat, but it wasn't there, or was this the wrong dock? I was in Hawaii on business, which is an oxymoron if you ask me. How can anybody concentrate on business when there are ocean reefs, lava fields, and rain forests to explore? But Honolulu is a metropolis that rivals any mainland city, and Camp Smith, where I had spent my work week, is a serious and impressive center for our national defense.

I had overcome jet lag and persevered through a week of work in the middle of paradise. Now I was glad to be off-duty, standing on the dock in the fresh noontime air, looking forward to some leisurely scuba dives where I could enjoy the underwater world and photograph some creatures. But where was the boat?

A man stood by himself near the end of the dock. Maybe he would know. He was large, tanned, and muscular, with a short haircut and a tattoo on his shoulder. He wore a sleeveless black Harley-Davidson T-shirt and black shorts. He looked like a diver.

He looked like the stereotypical macho diver who favors speed over going slowly and appreciating the underwater life. In fact, he looked very much like a diver I had known back East whom I never dived with because he bragged about pushing limits.

Nope, I decided before we had spoken a word, he probably was not the right dive buddy for me. But he was friendly, and introduced himself as Joe. Yes, he said, he knew the boat. He dived with them nearly every weekend. They hadn't returned from the morning dive yet. They'd be along soon.

A few more people arrived on the dock. Then the boat pulled up. We loaded gear, piled in, and took off. But since Joe and I were the only singles on the boat, the captain paired us for the dives. I was glad that at least the crew knew Joe and seemed to like him.

Our first dive was at the wreck of a small plane off Hawaii Kai. The dive boat had been there in the morning and the crew said the water had been crystal clear and calm. When we arrived though, a current had picked up. We jumped in and set off, swimming hard against the current to reach the anchor line.

Regulators in our mouths, we started to descend. We could see the wreck 100 feet below, a bluish outline against the bluish sand. Gorgeous. As we descended, the current lessened and we swam from the anchor to the wreck and made a quick tour. Joe used my camera to photograph me sitting in the cockpit of the plane. He knew where to find the moray eel and the colorful hermit crabs. But air doesn't last long at this depth, and soon we were on our way back up.

By the time we reached our 15-foot safety stop depth, the current was strong again. It was as though we were flags, grabbing the anchor line by our hands, our bodies pulled horizontal and flapping in the current. When it was time to surface, we let go of the line and aimed ourselves at the back of the boat, both of us managing to grab the swim step before getting swept past it.

Back on the boat, we chatted about the dive and prepared for another one. The captain decided the current was getting too strong, so he took us into a shallow bay where we might find small animals living among the coral rubble.

Joe had been a perfect dive buddy, never exceeding my pace, finding interesting things to look at, and seeming to enjoy everything about the dive. He was not living up to my expectation of an insensitive macho diver. Well, I thought, there had been a physical challenge to the first dive. Would he enjoy an easy shallow tour of coral rubble equally as much?

As it turned out, he did. We meandered along the piles of coral fragments. Joe found bristle worms, small fish, hermit crabs, and other creatures that I photographed. By the time I finished with one subject, he had something else for me to look at. At this depth our air lasted a long time, but finally we were back at the boat. I climbed on board while Joe hung onto the stern, floating in the warm water and chatting with the crew. Nobody seemed in a hurry to do anything. This was Hawaii as I had imagined it - paradise without work.

By now I was getting really curious about Joe. Such a gentle unpretentious person inhabiting a powerhouse of a body. Such artless defiance of my stereotyping. What was his story? Earlier I'd asked him where he worked and he had said simply "Camp Smith," which fit with the macho image. Now I asked him what he did at Camp Smith.

"I'm the Marine Corps chaplain for the Pacific Region. All the men and women who provide spiritual leadership on our military bases from Arizona to Korea report to me."

Talk about working in paradise. This had to be quite a job, and one in which the ocean reefs and lava fields and rain forests were absolutely relevant.

If he saw my jaw drop, he did not let on. All these years I had been looking beneath the surface of the ocean and finding wondrous things, but I wasn't nearly as good at looking beyond the surface appearance of my dive buddies. Well, I guess that's one of the things chaplains are good at - helping us view the world, and the people we meet, in new ways. So thanks for the dive, Joe, and for another kind of glimpse beneath the surface!

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