Marcy Barack Black

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In Pursuit of Passion                                           ThirdAge Perspectives

An essay by Marcy Barack

As soon as I saw him, I fell. Head over heels. Just the sight of him took my breath away -- so I had to concentrate on breathing in and out. I never thought I'd feel like that again. At 50, I was too old for sudden passion.

But there he was, golden lines forming a triangle on his side. A thrilling spot of red at the base of his pectoral fins. And those luscious blue lips, puckered up as if to kiss the coral.

He was a humuhumu nukunuku apua'a. Ridiculous name for a Picasso Triggerfish, the Hawaiian State fish. And I had happened upon him unaware.

What's in the Water?

I was born and raised in colder climes. I'd been to Hawaii twice before to visit family, but had never gone snorkeling. Until now. The hotel's amenities included a perfect sand beach at one end of a coral reef shoreline.

Every guest was issued a mask and snorkel tube. I tried mine out the first day. Standing in four feet of water, I stuck my face in the Pacific and discovered another world.

There were fish swimming in the water! I knew that. Intellectually, I knew: "fish swim in the ocean." But here they were, close to shore, swimming within my reach.

Exploring the Reef

The warm salt water supported me without the usual effort necessary in northern lakes. I simply put my face down and floated along the shore.

Suddenly, a school of slender cornet fish shot by inches beneath the surface, like a sheaf of spears launched by Neptune. I was astonished to discover a jungle of living rock hidden by the tide. Brains and fingers and fans of coral jumbled together in a rainbow of yellows, reds and blue.

The reef was the grazing ground of countless fish in sherbet-bright colors. They swam alone (a monstrous stripebelly puffer) or in pairs (ornate butterfly fish).

Every morning, I trooped down to the beach early to go snorkeling before afternoon waves stirred up the sand and clouded the water. I delighted with each new species I spotted. I floated until my lips turned as blue as the triggerfish.

Awakened Passion

At first it was the colors that entranced my eye. But the more I watched them, the more privileged I felt, observing these wild creatures in their natural habitat.

I learned which ones were shy and hid in the coral caves. I watched the territorial thugs chase away interlopers. I spied on the Romeos wooing their Juliets. I saw them eat; and I saw them pee.

But my most amazing discovery was learning that after five decades, life still holds surprises. I felt the rush of excitement. And I'm grateful to the humuhumu nukunuku apua'a for sparking fresh passion in me.