i learned to scuba dive when i was a teenager in papua new guinea. in the coastal town of madang, i went from classroom to pool to ocean. eager and nervous for the wide-open-deep-down adventure of it.
i remember my first dives. the weight of gear being settled on my shoulders. my knees bending with it. sitting on the rocking chair edge of the boat for my turn to enter. trying to slow my breath, fingers pressed against mask as i fell back for the ocean to take me into it’s story.
world war two bombers. sunken ships that we circled and entered, imagining the past. a trough, magic passage, where entrance required push against current but effort was rewarded with sunlight streaming through thousands of fish dancing and darting above in their classrooms.
instructor leading me closer to a small shark. the beauty of it swept fear under carpet and i didn’t want to look away. sting rays bursting from invisibility under foot only to disappear again, leaving a cloud of sand to settle. coral full of color and intricate life. the distant deep that testified of a god that had to be bigger than even this.
and one thing kept me there—- in the middle of it all.
i discovered on my first dive that my less dense and small frame required more weight than my dad and brother combined to stay submerged. as my tank was emptied by breath, i would float up. the magic and miracles around me were in the deeper and i couldn’t keep myself there.
we learned to add the extra weight at just the right time. when i could handle it. if i was standing my knees would buckle. but if i was sitting on the edge of the boat. i could brace myself and stay.
meeting water face to face, the weight disappeared and i journeyed to places that fed my sight and soul. at the home-going i would struggle to crawl onto the boat in my gear but difficulty was eclipsed by where i had been, what i had seen.
there is a girl—little to me, who has been weighted with cancer this last year. just now sharing that she is nearing the end of her dive.
i know she has seen magic and miracles and meaning in a place where she was kept by the weight god buckled around her waist. at the right time. at a time she could brace herself and stay. to take her on a journey worth the struggle. i know when she meets her savior face to face, the weight will disappear. heaven will eclipse her struggle with grace and glory.
her life. her story.
photographs of Jais Aben, Madang courtesy of Nelson Toro, PNG.