Lesson from a Moray Eel

It isn’t every day that a moray eel becomes your teacher.  I’ve logged over 300 dives, so I’ve been in the water very near to an eel multiple times. They’re usually tucked into a crevice, their head exposed, mouth wide open as they breathe.  Some people find them frightening.  I kind of get that seeing as they don’t have a very happy-looking face, but I find them somewhat interesting.  On occasion I’ve been able to spot them swimming through the water.  But I’ve never had the occasion to be a little concerned or dare I even say slightly freaked out by one’s behavior.  Until a couple of weeks or so ago.

Tigger and I were enjoying an afternoon snorkel around the dock at the dive shop where I work.  We have a seahorse that tends to hang out at the nearby docks, and we went to go find it.  After striking out we turned around to head back when I suddenly noted motion near my face.  To my surprise it was a rather large green moray eel, its mouth opening and closing inches from my face.  We were in extremely shallow water and with nowhere for it to hide which made this even more surprising.  I quickly backed away and put one of my fins between us.  The eel swam away and I continued to watch it.  It was acting extremely bizarre, swimming to the surface and sticking its head out of the water then swimming around some more.  It came close to me two more times before it suddenly swam to the bottom and lay in the sea grass.  A few seconds later it was swimming erratically again, and then it would faceplant into the grass.  Finally it just lay there.  I told Tigger I thought it was dying.  And then I waited.

I’ve spent the last several years, before beginning our nomad existence, working with the dying and their families. It’s rare that I ever feel completely helpless at a death.  I view death as a sacred, beautiful time that I am blessed to be a part of, in spite of the sadness it often generates for the loved ones.  I am able to be a comforting presence in a time of turmoil, a seed of peace in a maelstrom of chaos. But this time I felt completely helpless.  A dying person reaching out can often be comforted by simply holding their hand.  I can’t go over and stroke an almost 2-meter green moray eel and be assured I’ll still have a functional hand.  I can’t speak to it softly and tell it it is loved, that it’s okay to continue their Journey.  Often at a death I will send out loving energy and visualize them completely wrapped in an aura of peace and love.  Would it work for a moray?

As I watched it seemingly gasping, I was taken back to an animal hospital room where just over a year ago I was stroking my precious little Pepe and telling him how much he was loved and what a good boy he was as I watched the light leave his eyes.  He looked at me with so much trust in his eyes that I was forced to question if I had made the right decision.  But this would be little help to the moray.

I remained as I’ve done so many times before.  I moved further away unsure if my presence would add to its stress, and then I watched as its breathing slowed further and then finally stopped.  Then I finally exited the water.  The experience stayed with me for days.  Even when Pepe was being put to sleep, I didn’t feel helpless.  I could comfort him.  I could tell he felt my love.  But this time what I could possibly do?  That feeling was something so foreign to me. I’ve embraced it, but the experience has remained with me.

Have you ever had a time where you felt completely helpless? What did you do?

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    • Thank you. It definitely was.

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  1. Amazing.  And I am glad you and Tigger weren’t injured.  I’m a nurse also, and while I now specialize in birth, I used to take care of the dying.  2 sides of the same coin.  With birth and death our admission price (as strangers) is that we help the transition.  When I am present, but not helping, it doesn’t feel good.  I feel helpless, voujeristic (sp?), in the way.  I’ve talked to new nurses about that, b/c it feels bad.  But you never know what your presence means.  I have had many people that I felt zero connection with (and frustration and sadness with them and me b/c of it) later thank me, hug me, and tell me how much my presence and love helped them.  You never know.  It’s a stretch, but the eel may have felt your love.
    Thank you for your blog.  Even though we are strangers you add a lot to my life.

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    • I just hope I didn’t stress it out more by being nearby. I tried to stay out of its immediate visual range just in case. It was just such a surreal experience.

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