Kissed by a dolphin? It started innocently enough. First we were introduced, then we were holding hands/fins, next we were dancing… and then Tashi poked his head out of the water, looked right at me, and planted a big kiss right on my lips!
All this took place at Island Dolphin Center in Key Largo, FL as part of a Gold Star Family “Leap of Faith Program.” That is where I met Tashi, a male Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin, who is part of a “family” of dolphins that love interacting with military families and with children and adults with special needs.
There is something therapeutic about being “up close and personal” with dolphins. The experience strips away fears and anxieties and replaces those feelings with pure joy and excitement. The dolphins know how to bring us out of our comfort zone by allowing us to become part of their world, as we in turn give them our full attention.
On a beautiful, sunny, winter day in Florida, my sister and I sat on a dock and dangled our toes in the water as Tashi and Fiji swam back and forth and gave us a little “foot massage.” The trainer said it was good for them as it helped exfoliate their skin. But for me, it was this gentle movement that made me want to reach out and touch them. Their skin felt smooth, and it shimmered in the Florida sunlight. Soon we were talking with the dolphins. The trainers taught us some hand signals/commands, and before we knew it we were waving our arms and clicking our fingers and communicating with our new friends. Then it was time to say goodbye to Tashi and Fiji, but not before feeding them some fish and then having them wave their tails at us in a fond farewell.
We moved on to the other side of the large pool where we would meet Bella. She is a teenage beauty! The trainer asked my sister and I if we would like to get in the water and play with Bella, and we jumped right in. Bella was shaking her head at us as if she was asking us…”Are you ready?” Before we knew it, the trainer asked Cathy and I to hold hands, and said that Bella would give us a push. All of a sudden, Bella was giving me a foot push… and this sent my sister and I into a circling spiral motion as if we were on a water merry-go-round. Everyone watching erupted in laughter as they had never seen anything like it before! Even the trainer was surprised!!!
Swimming with Bella was such a thrill in so many ways. This gentle water creature showed us how to play…how to have fun together…and how to heal.
Fifty years ago, our brother Jerry died while serving his county. At that moment, our family was changed forever. Looking back, I now realize that his death impacted each member of our family and influenced how we interacted with each other…how we dealt with pain, worked through differences, and spoke about our feelings or kept them buried.
Our encounters with the dolphins at Island Dolphin Care touched our wounds and helped heal them in the best way possible…by touching our hearts and our lives so gently and lovingly.
Sometimes a “Leap of Faith” might mean entering the water and swimming with dolphins. Or it might mean doing a tandem jump with one of the US Army’s Golden Knights Parachute Team. Stay tuned for my next blog on this experience.
Spoiler alert: my sister and I did not do the jump, but we watched how others in our group were changed by the experience, and our lives were changed vicariously by being part of their “cheering section” as their parachutes opened and they floated down to earth.