INTO THE DEEP
It was nearly noon on a hot summer day and little tummies were beginning to rumble. Natalie had called the kids to eat some lunch she had earlier prepared but Mitch had one more adventure to take before he took a break. I can still hear the sound Mitchell’s tiny flat feet slapping the wet floor as he scuttled across the pool deck to the deep end. There was an adventure to take and he wasn't about to miss it.
Mitch was quite a swimmer when he was a wee child. He could also hold his breath longer than most and seemed to enjoy floating in the water face down. I once asked little Mitch why he liked to float face down and he looked at me and smiled, “It feels like I’m flying.” Many lifeguards confused Mitchell’s aqua-flying for drowning and nearly dove in to save him thinking he was in trouble. This young boy loved water in part because he loved to feel free.
Little Mitch nervously clung to the end of the handrail and peered over the edge of the diving board into the deep water just below his feet. Until this moment he had only known shallow pools, bathtubs and water in the safety of our arms. But the deep end was where the big people went and Mitch wanted to give it a try, all by himself. After a moment he let go of the handrail and slowly walked to the edge, then with a deep breath he jumped into the water.
I remember the first time I dove into the deep end. I was about the age of Mitch in this photo (~4 years old) … I can still feel traces of the panic that coursed through my body as I was swallowed up by the deep blue. Until this moment, like Mitch, water had been my gentle friend and playmate. But in an instant I realized how scary and unforgiving water can be. Suddenly I gained a new respect for water and for all things deep.
As my little boy paused a moment to consider what was before him I took this photo and marveled at his bravery. Then, within a few seconds, he had hurled himself into the deep and was out of sight. Little Mitch was so electrified by what he experienced he wanted to jump off the diving board again and again. Though he respected the danger of deep water he faced it and conquered his fear of it. Being physically weak he had every reason to retreat and find reasons not to do hard things. But he instinctively faced hard things with courage. And that courage rewarded him as he faced death, the deepest of human experience.
I remember being a little numb this day. The evening prior I had stayed up nearly the entire night at our kitchen table crying and reading books … lots of books. One of them “Realities in Coping with Progressive Neuromuscular Diseases” wasn't a book for parents, but physicians and primary care providers. It was brutal and factual – and while the book was dated and some thinking obsolete, it provided a desperately needed candor on the subject of my son’s disease. I was hungry to learn all that I could about DMD and didn't have time or the patience for soft descriptions and vagaries. I wanted to know what my son was dealing with – and I wanted it straight.
Like my son in this photo, I was holding on to anything I could as I peered nervously into the depths at my feet – only I couldn't see the bottom and everything was dark.
Later that evening, as I scanned my photos of the day I saw this image and committed it to canvas. I originally titled it “Taking Chances”. At the time courage to take a chance is what it symbolized to me. But today this image resembles so much more than that. It hangs in my home as a reminder that strength and courage are matters of the mind and soul more than the body and if my son can do hard things so can I.