It's cold in Colorado today. Everything is frosted over by a relentless, bone-chilling sleety snow. I made my kids walk to school anyway so that they can have the "back in my day..." stories to tell their own children and grandchildren who will no doubt be hover-boarding or flying by drone to school.
The cold has me wistfully thinking about our time in Jamaica. A week and a half ago, we were wearing swim suits and swimming with dolphins.
I love dolphins...who doesn't, right? I also feel a particularly special bond with them based on some sightings I had while visiting my mom when she was fighting (and ultimately losing) her battle with cancer. If my mom has an animal totem, I'm convinced it's a dolphin.
Therefore, when my sister-in-law asked if I wanted to schedule a family trip to swim with dolphins, I was all in. Our whole family was excited, but I admit that I was a bit worried about the "animals in captivity" aspect of the adventure. I have mixed feelings about zoos and even feel guilty about owning a bearded dragon who stays in a tank in my daughter's room.
Still, we went. As we walked toward the staging area we spotted the dolphins swimming around in the netted-off bay. Of course we knew we would be seeing dolphins, but the first sighting was still thrilling. As the dolphins swam around and we stood on the walkway above them, they came to check us out, circling and rolling to the side to get a good look at us. The dolphin trainers said they were excited to have new playmates. I was a bit skeptical, but they did seem curious and even happy to see us.
The encounter was amazing. I know it's a tourist trap, but for good reason. Our group was taken into one of the pools and we stood on platforms in the water. We got to pet the two dolphins assigned to our group, Alex and Starsy, and learn about their features. The trainer told us that in the wild, the average life span of a dolphin is ~25 years, but in captivity, it's closer to 45! After the introduction, we went in pairs out to the middle of the pool where the dolphins came and presented their fins to us. We grabbed on and got a belly ride back to the platform. We also got dolphin kisses and the chance to dance with them. The dolphins knew their job. They were focused, friendly, and funny. Honestly, their comedic timing was impressive. They were working for little fish snacks, but I swear that they were having fun, too. Any concern I had about seeing depressed and enslaved animals was dissipated by the pure joy they exhibited in their work.
So here's the metaphor...be like the dolphins. These dolphins were clearly victims of circumstance. They didn't apply for the job. They didn't surrender to a life of entertaining humans. Without a doubt, they were captured or bred by humans, trained, and subject to a life they didn't choose. But there they were, doing it with joy and to the best of their ability. They weren't half-heartedly flopping out of the water. They weren't moping around and wishing things were different. They were showing off. They were working hard. They were BRINGING IT and I have no doubt that they do that with every single group of bright-eyed tourists that come into the pool.
I realize this isn't a perfect metaphor. I fully recognize the difference between the human condition and the situation these dolphins are in. On one hand, we have more choice and control over our world than dolphins do. And yes, on the other, we are more aware of all the different manifestations our lives could take. However, I think we can learn from dolphins. We can try to emulate them. Dolphins play. Dolphins enjoy their connections with each other and with other species, including humans. One study of dolphins in captivity found that they look forward to playing with a familiar human. Dolphins (perhaps out of ignorance, sure) make the best of their circumstances and they show up with energy and enthusiasm. And whether they know it or not, they bring joy to others. Our whole group left the encounter full of gratitude and energy and excitement. I'm sure the dolphins aren't considering their long-term effect on everyone they encounter, and similarly, we cannot know the entirety of our influence. Still, as I sit here on this frigid morning in Colorado, I can feel a glow of love and appreciation as I recall my interactions with Alex and Starsy, and that type of influence is something to which we can all aspire.