I finally got to take my retreat day at Discovery Cove. It was wonderful.
Some of you may recall my visits to Discovery Cove in earlier years. If you would like to refresh your memories, you can read my accounts at http://www.terrilabonte.com/2017/05/my-date-with-the-dolphins/ , http://www.terrilabonte.com/2017/05/school-of-dolphins/ , http://www.terrilabonte.com/2019/06/artistry/ , and http://www.terrilabonte.com/2018/07/discovery-in-the-cove/ .
As you can see by the plethora of blog pieces I have written to memorialize my days of the dolphins, I cannot get enough of the experience. Once I got over the silly “once in a lifetime experience” orientation, I looked forward to my Dolphin Day each year. Each year, the experience far exceeded my unreasonably high expectations. The most interesting thing is that, each year, the experience has been uniquely wonderful. You would think that, by now, my annual trip to Discovery Cove would have fallen comfortably into a pleasure niche… a fun day, to be sure, but not exactly novel and surprising. Truth be told, the activities in which I engage during each visit are pretty much the same. The reality, however, is that the way I experience each visit has been very different. I seem to get what I need at the particular time each time I go.
The first time I went to Discovery Cove, the experience was very much about novelty and luxury. My first trip occurred during the time I was accompanying my mother on her end of life journey. Time blurred during that period in my life. Days and nights ran together. Everything in my life was pretty much about loving my mother and living for her. There was nothing novel about my life. In fact, part of the burden was the aching, heavy, oppressive sameness of each day. As anyone who has ever been inside a skilled nursing facility knows, there is no luxury involved. While I did not reside in the skilled nursing facility, I lived there. My life was with my mother. My life was institutional grey and every facet of it was functional, not luxurious. The day at Discovery Code gave me sunlight and saltwater and service and specialness. It delighted me and lit some joy in my depleted soul.
The second time I went to Discovery Cove, I was learning to embrace life. I struggled with letting go of practicality. It seemed frivolous to spend money on an encore of my “once in a lifetime” experience. As soon as I settled happily into my day, though, I realized that there should be nothing “once in a lifetime” about enjoying each moment. Having memories to savor and having dreams to pursue are important, wonderful facets of a full life. Having those memories and those dreams does not diminish the magic of the now. I spent a wonderful day, practicing my living in the now skills. The fact that I had been to the cove before did not take the dew of my dolphin rose. That time, I heard a child proclaim, “this is the best day ever.” Suddenly, I understood that each day can be the best day ever, if we fully experience the present. As illogical as it sounds, maybe we don’t get just one best day ever. Maybe God blesses us with many best days ever, if we are open to His grace.
The third trip to Discovery Cove focused me on the beauty and sheer artistry of nature. I focused much more outwardly than during my prior visits. Instead of exploring my own mind… as fascinating as that was… I explored the sights, sounds, textures, scents, and tastes I experienced. I purposely let my mind be still and soak in the experience. I savored the fruit of my senses and remembered that God was the artist of the breathtaking canvas of the world. On this experience, I realized that my day at the cove was actually a spiritual retreat for me.
This last visit was different because Discovery Cove made significant adjustments due to COVID-19 protocols. I was not expecting to enjoy it as much as prior visits. In fact, I probably would not have gone except that I had a quarantine-postponed paid reservation that was speeding headlong towards an expiration date.
To my surprise, I enjoyed my COVID-curtailed day at Discovery Cove very much. I was interested to see how the employees adjusted to retain as much magic as they could while offering only encounters that could be handled with physical distancing. Typically, one of the highlights of the day is “swimming with a dolphin.” That entailed swimming out to deep water and holding on to a dolphin’s flipper while she towed you back to the shore. I knew that there was not going to be any dolphin surfing on my recent trip. However, what I did not know is that the keepers would offer alternative experiences. I got to train a dolphin, dance with her, and giggle as she sang with me. It wasn’t quite as exciting as riding a dolphin wakeboard, but it was so much fun. Because I had been shut away from the world for so long, it was a very sweet treat to be outside in the sun and water for a day. I truly appreciated the sensual jubilee that my day with the dolphins provided. Because Discovery Cove is always a limited admission park, it never feels crowded. On this last trip, the sense of being almost alone on a tropical island was even more pronounced. There were few visitors and we were all staying well clear of us each other.
Yes, this past trip represented a different kind of experience. Of all my trips, there were the fewest experiences available. However, in some ways, this last, “limited” trip was the best of all worlds. As I reveled in the luxury and novelty in my first trip, my last trip represented the luxury of liberation from quarantine… freedom from the world within my four walls. As I reveled in the opportunity to embrace life and live in the moment without worrying about the past or future during my second trip, my last trip reminded me that an experience that is different from what I expect is not necessarily a “less than” experience. As I reveled in the infusion of senses emanating from God’s natural world and spent some quality time with my Maker on my third trip, my last trip gave me silence and solitude to continue those divine conversations.
Discoveries are delightful!
Do you have an experience or activity that continues to surprise and enrich you, even after doing it multiple times? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a Discovery Day!