What Happened When I Dipped My Feet in Warm Water

A story about an island without a dock.

I didn’t realize that touching those warm waters would change my life forever.

As the boat approached the island, we rolled our pants before dipping our feet in the South Pacific Ocean. “Who needs a dock in paradise?” — I remember saying to myself.

“Bula!” — The welcome ‘committee’ said “Hello,” as we were offered a ‘Salusalu’ (Fijian for flower garland). This practice is not a touristy thing but is ingrained in their traditions.

Back then, Fiji was so unspoiled that it felt unreal.

Our trip to this island resort was a last minute thing. Moira Dillon, my girlfriend and I were visiting my sister who was living in New Zealand back then. Something was telling us that we needed to go to Fiji. Soon we would find out why.

We spent our days snorkeling exploring — even more remote — islands and reefs. A local fisherman became our guide while he was catching fishes with a small harpoon.

The local fisherman caught a Puffer fish (Fiji, 1993)

The second night there was a turning point.

We could hear nothing except our voices whispering in the dark. I don’t remember if it was a million stars reflected in the pristine waters or the effect of the bold red wine. Something inside of me took over. I told Moira that I wanted to be with her forever.

“So you want to get married on our island? That’s lovely, so when are you planning the wedding for? Next year? Or the following?” — Lingo, the resort manager, asked with a polite British accent.

Clearly, he didn’t realize my true intentions. “Next year? I don’t think he gets what I’m trying to tell him.” — I thought to myself.

Lingo suddenly sat on a chair. He wasn’t smiling now. His team was looking at him like saying “I think they want to do it this week.” We only had a few days left before returning to New Zealand. Moira was giving me that look remembering her last night’s words (“I don’t think it will be possible.”)

It took us a long conversation and many teas, to help Lingo realized we were not joking. “It’s impossible. Impossible.” — He kept repeating aloud. But I wouldn’t surrender.

I’ve heard the words “you can’t” so many times in my life, that they lost all meaning. When you stop listening to other people’s fears, that’s when you can jump into action.

When everyone shares a purpose is easy to build a team around it.

Nothing can beat love. Especially when it comes to preparing a wedding in no time.

Lingo and his team crossed the line too. And embraced the challenge.

Fiji’s official religion is Protestant. The island staff started shaking every palm tree until they found a pastor who could marry us. Luckily, a couple that had planned their wedding years ahead, was getting married on an island close to where we were. We just had to convince the pastor to make a stop.

However, we still had to get a marriage license first. And transportation to get us there back in time.

When you know what you want, you make things happen.

In a couple of hours, most of the pieces were falling into place. As I was looking down, I couldn’t believe the transparency of those turquoise waters. Life seemed so different when observed from a hydroplane. James, a former British Second World War pilot, was enjoying the challenge too.

For a small amount of money and a lot of enthusiasm, we were able to convince this British pilot to take us to “‘mainland” (Fiji is an island country, its capital is… on another island). He seemed like a character out of a movie.

Everything felt unreal.

Taking a taxi in a remote country, 24 years ago, felt exciting and liberating. We have to arrive on time to the court. And, after a short ceremony, with no any other witness but the two of us, we were officially married.

The flight back was in slow motion.

The two of us were the same, but something had changed us forever.

Lingo was more nervous than us. He was looking to see if everything went right. Until one of the crew members pointed to the waters. Moira and I were back in the ocean, far away from the shore, enjoying thousands of beautiful underwater creatures.

Some people go on a honeymoon after they get married. In our case, both were part of one single experience.

Getting married in the middle of nowhere was apparent anticipation of our life together. Taking risks, improvising, crossing lines, would become our norm.

The most beautiful things in life happen unplanned.

In an era where everyone is broadcasting their lives, our Fiji story is my reminder that I never needed witnesses for what matters. The most defining decisions in life are personal and intimate. I didn’t need social validation to tell Moira that she was the one.

Wearing a ‘tapa,’ the traditional Fijian wedding attire seemed natural. At that point, we felt like locals. The wedding costumes, made of the bark of a Mulberry Tree, were borrowed from one of the staffers.

The sun was slowly setting behind us as the ceremony concluded and we were invited to a romantic boat trip around the island. As we enjoyed the bottle of champagne, what a few days ago felt impossible, was real.

Sometimes crossing a line is all that separates you from living the life you want.

I can remember it as it was yesterday, dining with a group of Australians that became our family for that night. We had a small celebration and missed our friends and family. But we had more than we could ever wish for.

Time has passed. Moira and I raised two kids, not before enjoying many years on our own. We had wonderful moments and many normals too. We once reached a low that seemed more profound than the Pacific Ocean, but we were able to get back to the surface stronger than before.

Moira and I moved a lot, getting used to new cities and languages. We lived in so many houses that I lost the count. Together we learned yoga, scuba diving, cooking new dishes, biking endless miles, and getting used to always being the last diners at (American) restaurants.

But, most importantly, we stayed true to our style. To live our lives by following our hearts, not our plans.

Today we are celebrating in a low profile fashion. The same way as when we got married: to impress ourselves, not others.

This island resort had no dock on purpose: it was an invitation to leap into its raw ocean.

24 years ago, Moira and I dipped our feet into the warm waters of the Pacific. Since then, we turned crossing lines into a way of living.

This is our story of how an hydroplane and the kind support of warm people turned an “it’s impossible” into a “Yes, I do.”

I help teams and organizations build fearless cultures. Creator of the Culture Design Canvas. Insights → www.fearlessculture.design/blog

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