Last week I was remembering a series of scuba dives I took several years back when we visited Mexico. I had been working towards scuba certification in some community center pool in the middle of winter in Minnesota but I had yet to experience diving in anything even vaguely resembling open water. In order to be scuba certified, I was required to actually get out into a large body of water and put my skills to use.
When we booked our vacation, we knew that scuba would be primary on the agenda. We scheduled several dives including that first obligatory, highly supervised open water dive. But after that requirement was met, I was pretty much free to jump on a boat with other divers and motor out to where we could barely see the shore and dive into a place so deep I couldn’t possibly reach the bottom to explore seemingly endlessly stretching vertical walls and caves and reefs with hidden nooks and complex configurations in so many varieties that there would be very little hope of ever discovering my dead body before a plethora of sea creatures devoured it were anything to go wrong. In fact, that’s exactly what we did. All of it except the dead body part, of course.
It’s hard to describe the sensation of being deeply submerged in a seemingly boundless environment in which conditions are such that a simple equipment malfunction would leave me unable to survive for more than a few minutes without significant damage to major organs. But maybe I’m the only one who entertains such morbid thoughts because perfectly normal and sane people do this all the time. In fact, when we started getting out on scuba excursions I found myself a bit disappointed that the other divers were almost always middle-aged, slightly hung-over and painfully sunburned folks with soft bodies jammed tightly and rather unsuccessfully into very tight wetsuits. I apparently had been harboring some romantic notion that I was joining a clan of semi-elite underwater adventurers.
I only felt all the more disillusioned about my adventure-club status when, before we’d even set foot in the water but had simply traveled across the bumpy surface, I arrived at our destination completely seasick. The driver killed the engine, our boat lurching quietly on the waves. It was more to experience relief than a sense of adventure that I jumped off that bobbing boat. All I wanted to do was get underneath the chop of the water as quickly as possible. I gave the thumbs up to the lead diver and descended under the surface, the bottom of the boat growing smaller above me as the distance between my body and any relatively speedy transportation to medical care grew greater. The waters pressed increasingly heavy as I sunk into the darkness. As the life of the sea eclipsed the reality of the world above, pairs of us divers branched off from each other, following our whims to explore whatever caught our eyes. My husband and I swam along the plunging sea wall and I found myself carried away by the sights and sensations and, apparently, the drift currents because before I knew it I was having a hard time spotting anyone else, husband included. I glanced at my dive computer to see that I had descended to somewhere between 80 and 90 feet. Our leader had warned us to go no further than 60 feet because of increased risk of decompression sickness, narcosis and depleted air supplies at greater depths. Clearly, I had lost track of time and distance and a proper sense of orientation.
I don’t think it was the actual fear of death that impressed me while I dove that week as much as the sensation of being so completely obscured by the conditions and the environment around me. It elicited some fear deeper and darker than the ocean itself, realizing how I could be lost in only a matter of moments, slipping into that great abyss of the sea until I dissolved from sight completely. How shocking it is that so easily and so very quietly my entire self could disappear.
I’ve felt that sensation before in other adventurous settings. When I was 19 studying in Uganda, only a few days after we had arrived we were driven around in a van and simply dropped off by ourselves at random places throughout the city and told we would need to find our own way back to where we were staying, no phones or GPS to aide us. Having minimal language ability and cultural understanding, no reliable protections or real rights with the legal system and nothing familiar with which to orient myself, I was aware of how I would simply disappear if someone wanted me to. Another time in London in a moment of traveler’s naivete I was robbed of all my money and credit cards, my identification and my plane tickets in one fell swoop, darkness covering my completely anonymous self in a very large city. How strange that all that identifies me could dissolve before anyone really cared enough to notice. But truly, this feeling has been the most oppressive in much more mundane circumstances. When my parents separated and I was the new kid in middle school. Becoming a mother.
But I found a place of calm on one of those dives in Mexico. Under the depths of the sea, I remembered this verse:
Amplified Bible (AMP)
7 Where could I go from Your Spirit? Or where could I flee from Your presence?
8 If I ascend up into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol (the place of the dead), behold, You are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning or dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 Even there shall Your hand lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me and the night shall be [the only] light about me,
12 Even the darkness hides nothing from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You.
And a few verses later, the chapter goes on (New Living Translation):
17 How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
They cannot be numbered!
18 I can’t even count them;
they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
you are still with me!
I try to recall that verse when I fear I might indeed meet the fate of a small and insignificant organism in this unfathomable sea of human history and events. In the middle of my most monotonous or mundane days when I feel inconsequential. Forgotten. Unseen. Unheard. Unappreciated. Unnoticed. Unnamed. Unimportant. Unknown.
Really, aren’t these the great fears of human existence? Aren’t these are the things that cause us to do all sorts of things-crazy things and heroic things, ugly things and beautiful things- just to be noticed. But know dear friend that you do not have to do anything, especially anything desperate. You simply are known. You are seen. Wherever you are today, even if you find yourself in that great, silent depth, know that you are not alone. Because you can never escape His notice. And His thoughts towards you are too numerous to count.