A Message from a Drowning Honeybee

It’s story time with ZooFit.

Early in December 2023, I started swimming in the ocean regularly. This is all thanks to my good friend who visited and “dragged” me to the beach for a sunrise paddleboard at Ala Moana Beach. It was ridonkuously early, but it was so invigorating and refreshing. It was a reminder to me that one of the main reasons I said yes to moving to Hawaii was that I’d get to swim in the ocean more often. Every other week is definitely more often than I was swimming in the Pacific Northwest, but feeling so alive and rejuvenated sealed the deal. I committed to swim more often.

The moment I decided to start swimming some mornings before work, work began getting crazy. At first, they asked us to come in an hour earlier (overtime pay, of course).I groaned and tried it out one day, but thankfully, my supervisor said our unit did NOT need the extra hour; we got our tasks done just fine without it. I was relieved because I really wanted to go swimming, not go to work early. But I started taking extra shifts, and I was still trying (way too hard, physically) to impress my colleagues and managers with my hard work, teamwork, positive attitude, toughing things out when it was hard, doing the work no one else wanted to do, and never giving up.

On my first day swimming on my own, I had the most invigorating swim. I didn’t want to be late, though, so I got out of the water just as the sun started to rise. On my way towards the beach, I found a poor little honeybee swimming frantically in the water. I instantly grabbed my fins and carefully lifted the bee out of the water and took them to shore. After my shower, I couldn’t find the honeybee so assumed it flew away after getting dried off.

Three days later, I came back for a swim. This time, I swam a lap around the buoys, but then did some fun mobility exercises I used to do on land, but felt infinitely better without the impact of gravity and hard ground. As I swooped my legs through the water doing a hip opener, I spotted another honeybee. Again, in the water, struggling. Of course, I paused my workout, scooped the bee in my mask, and carried them back to the beach. The bee crawled off the mask onto the sand and went on their merry little way.

The next four visits to the beach all met with the same event. As I headed towards the beach after my swim, I’d find a honeybee. Just one. After the third or fourth time I found a honeybee, I started looking for them. I mean, if I was finding them every single day at the beach, IN THE OCEAN, then there must be hundreds of bees drowning. I knew I couldn’t save them all, but I could try to save some of them. But I never found more than one each day.

Then one day I was cleaning the waterbowls in the elephant barn, and what did I find? Yup. A drowning honeybee.

Okay, I thought, this is just weird. What is going on?

I asked my manager, who is a native Hawaiian and specializes in animal communication, what did honeybees symbolize. She didn’t know, since they aren’t exactly native to Hawaii, but she looked it up on her phone.

“Honeybees usually symbolize hard work…” my manager told me.

I thought about that for a moment. Sometimes I feel animals can be poignant messengers to us, if we only open our mind to receive the message. Honeybees symbolize hard work. Did the Universe want to recognize my hard work? Why were the honeybees drowning, then?

It hit me. “Stop drowning yourself in your work.”

Unfortunately, I didn’t exactly listen. Over the next few weeks, I found drowning honeybee after drowning honeybee every time I went to the beach. I’d think about the message it was maybe trying to tell me, but always ended up dismissing it. I mean, the message felt a little too on the nose.

Then on New Years Eve, after I finished work, I felt super fatigued. My hips really hurt, as the ground was slippery from rain, and even though I hadn’t fallen (yet), I had slipped more than once. Carrying those large loads (elephant poop, as you might guess, weighs a lot…), walking across the wet yard, pushing the wheelbarrow, climbing ladders to put up enrichment– the list was extensive to potential issues that were causing my hips hurt the way they were. But I could barely get up my stairs. I felt old, decrepit, and broken. Not too far off from how I felt physically before I discovered ZooFit.

That night, the rest of Hawaii celebrated New Years, but the fireworks and noise didn’t bother me. What bothered me were my hips. I couldn’t sleep, as whatever side I rolled onto, it hurt one of my hips. It was very uncomfortable. Something had to stop.

“I need to take it easy,” I told myself. “I cannot keep this up. I’m going to see the doctor at the first opportunity, even if it’s in the middle of my work shift, and I’m going to slow down at work.”

I took some pain medicine, and headed to the beach. As a joke, I did the “Polar Bear Plunge.” It’s a Pacific Northwest tradition (at least on Whidbey Island and Tacoma, I’m sure other areas do it, too) to plunge into a body of water on January 1st, to do something mentally challenging and get the year started with a splash? Maybe it’s like the concept of Eat That Frog, get something REALLY hard accomplished and completed on January 1st, and everything else afterwards will feel pretty easy. Only, my Polar Bear Plunge wasn’t too mentally challenging. It’s Hawaii, and the water isn’t cold.

After my swim, I headed to work, noticing my hip was irritated but not nearly as painful as yesterday. At work, I told my colleague that I felt I needed to take it easy, and he agreed. We took our time cleaning the yards and took more sit-down breaks. By lunch, my hip felt amazing. I still wanted to see a doctor, but I felt a lot better.

The next morning, my hip still felt better. “I’m going to repeat EXACTLY what I did yesterday to ensure I don’t feel the intense pain.” So I went to the beach to go for my second swim of the year. And I felt great.

I was able to get a doctor’s appointment, and the doctor agreed with me that physical therapy was a good course of action. She asked me if I felt okay to return to work full duty, which I agreed, at this level, I was good to go. I still took it a little easy at work, walking the yards a little slower than normal, and sitting down on a stool to feed the elephants while doing footwork (basically we give the elephants pedicures every month, to maintain excellent foot care).

On Wednesday, January 3, I returned to the ocean, because whatever I was doing was working phenomenally. On my way back to the beach, I remembered to look for honeybees, and realized…I hadn’t found any the previous two days.

The MOMENT I decided to slow down and take care of myself, the Universe stopped sending me drowning honeybees.

I’m sure there is a scientific explanation about the honeybees. December is the month they fly into the wind and get disoriented, and many end up in the water. Perhaps. But it doesn’t explain why I’d only find ONE each time. And it’s just an eery but poignant coincidence that they suddenly stopped right at the time I took their message to heart.

But the message was received.

Stop drowning in your work. Take care of yourself. You don’t have to kill yourself to be a great employee. Bee good to yourself, so you can bee good to the animals.

If you are feeling the same as me, perhaps you have a physical ailment, or perhaps you are on the verge of fatigue getting the better of you. Remember the drowning honeybees. Listen to nature, and take care of yourself.

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