What can a single word do? It can support, shame, uplift, console and produce any number of responses. It can also elicit a memory. That was the case yesterday as I listened to the news of the dive boat disaster off the Channel Islands. As they described the condition of the Conception, the location of the vessel and the charter company involved. While listening to the horrific news, the word ‘conception’ kept repeating in my head. Familiar, but why?
Suddenly, images of a long-ago event took shape in my mind. I remembered an annual sales meeting, held aboard a dive boat instead of our usual hotel conference room setting. Here we could do our annual planning, but also test out some of the newest dive computers. I worked for a diving manufacturer, which will always hold some of my fondest work memories. I wasn’t an avid diver, but I’ve never had such strong bonds with my colleagues in any other company. 35 years later, and I am still in touch with a good number of those people.
Waxing nostalgic with thoughts of those individuals, I sought out a photo album I’d made years ago, dedicated to those friends, co-workers and activities from the near decade I worked at Oceanic. As I leafed through the pages, I couldn’t help but smile at the crazy kids we were back then (most of us were in our 20s and 30s). With every turn, there was a reminder of some party, work function or conference with some of the best people I’ve ever known. A few pages later, and I stopped. One of those memories was captured on film, our group surrounding a conference table, aboard a boat. Familiar faces allowed memories to take form.
I pulled one of the pictures out of its plastic sleeve and turned it over. It was my habit to record date, location and people on the backs of photos and then there it was. Conception. I’d written the boat name down along with all of the other details. So, I had been on the boat that now was at the bottom on the ocean. The bottom of the ocean that had such a poignant memory for me.
I could visualize it in my mind… This was my first boat dive experience and though a little hesitant, one of my friends was a dive instructor and had convinced me to go on a night dive with him. He assured me he’d hang onto me before we shut off our lights, and asked me to simply stay still for a bit while my eyes adjusted to the darkness. When they did, it was an amazing sight. Phosphorescent organisms appeared that weren’t visible in the daylight. Interesting creatures abounded and it was a pure delight to see a number of bright red lobsters creeping about.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a large dark shape dropping down near the ocean floor. Before I had a chance to panic, the shape materialized. It was the owner of our company, diving without a buddy, as he’d admonished us to never do. With a quick dip, he swooped low waving his hands across the ocean bottom, disturbing the sand in the process. And suddenly the ocean floor shook, dusted itself off as a school of angel sharks gracefully swam away.
Later that evening, I tried to get comfortable in the close-quartered bunks below deck. Positioned right over the motor, the noise and the vibration wreaked havoc on my system. Feeling hot, nauseous and like I was going to pass out, I climbed the ladder to the upper deck to get some fresh sea air. Instead of the dark and open sky, I found a half-dozen of the guys up on deck laughing and drinking. There was no end to the teasing from them for my current state, but sympathy as well having been there before themselves.
As I looked at photos from all of those folks, it made me appreciate the fact that one word conjured up so many memories in such a short time. The fond ones I’ve mentioned and so many others. But then of course, the current events of unsurmountable sadness and loss. I reached out to two of my friends from that time and reconnected with both as we shared our mixed emotions that have surfaced. They too are shocked and saddened by the tragedy, especially when coupled with recollections of much happier times.