This I Believe

Christine - Worcester, Massachusetts
Entered on November 5, 2006
Age Group: Under 18

Sharks are everywhere. This is not just a selachophobe’s paranoid rambling: I believe it entirely. Whether in the ocean, your swimming pool, or your bathtub, a finned monster could be there, waiting to strike. Indeed, it sometimes seems wise to avoid water like a rabid dog, but I would never do that. Fear of sharks has never kept me out of the water, just as any other fear would never prevent me from taking a risk.

“Shark Week” on The Discovery Channel may have ruined my life, but it also opened my eyes to a whole new world of fearful possibilities. Bull sharks can live for extended periods of time in fresh water. That means that no pond or river is off-limits. We clever humans thought that we had found ways to safely enjoy ourselves in the water, but these adaptable eating machines have proved us wrong. All of our efforts to protect ourselves against sharks are futile; it’s only a matter of time until they grow lungs and start walking on land. Danger is not something that we can simply avoid; it is changeable and omnipresent.

These harsh realities lead me to one question: if I were to meet a shark, what would I do? Surely my first reaction would be to punch it in the nose; but then again, I might want to keep my hand as far away from its mouth as possible. Perhaps I would try to swim away, or throw something to distract it. All things considered, I don’t see any way that a person could become adequately prepared. One could read about what the proper shark defense is, but in that moment, your only hope is your first impulse, your survival instinct. Aside from having your reflexes reasonably intact, there is absolutely nothing you can do to prepare.

This knowledge would lead some to avoid swimming, but it has had an opposite effect on me. I know that whenever I step into water, I am at risk of a shark attack, but that would never stop me from swimming. Rather, knowing that nothing could ever prepare me for a real-life Jaws, I decide to take life as it comes at me. There is no point in being afraid of something that you cannot prevent or control without sacrificing more than you want to. Fear of sharks is like fear of death: you cannot control death unless you would rather not live, and you cannot control sharks unless you never set foot in a bathtub again. These are both completely rational fears; what it is irrational is to let them affect your daily life.

I am always on the lookout for sharks; at pool parties, at the beach, or at the YMCA, I remain on my toes for fear of losing them. But I would never pass up an opportunity to be in the water just because an overgrown fish could get me. Sharks are everywhere; but that would never stop me from going anywhere.