The Dive

DivingOne of the greatest free divers in the world—if not thee greatest—prepped for a recreational dive, took one last breath, and disappeared forever.

I’m under no illusions. Writing is not physically dangerous the way diving is dangerous. I am not confused on the matter. But the tale of the woman who dove too deep and vanished is on my mind almost two and half weeks later.

Perhaps the current grabbed Natalia Molchanova—or a fish, or one of those giant, abyssal creatures that lives where she played.

She entered alien territory and never returned. Perhaps she wore the clothes of the sea too long and forgot they were not hers by right. This is not a criticism, but an observation of the distances we go to slip our skin and dress ourselves in the vestment of what we most love.

Writers dive deep in the hope of both vanishing and appearing—the paradox of most art is to be lost and found at the same time.

I’ve negotiated this fear as reader, writer, and human being, but diving with pen in hand feels more dangerous when you’re unsure what lies beneath—or when you’ve sampled what dwells below.

Depression, anxiety, OCD, self-harming, PTSD or a combination thereof; hunches, speculations, hurt, curiosity, drive, empathy… possession. Temporary bread crumbs threatening permanent occupation or indelible knowing. Temporary bread crumbs familiar to many but mastered by few.

It’s not disappearing that frightens me, but losing the freedom of choice to return, losing the ability to extract myself because I am caught by something so sticky, intriguing, or hungry that I do not think to resurface until it is too late.

And within those fears it’s the hunger that scares me most—the neglected thing left to starve that when presented with the opportunity to feed pursues its prey relentlessly.

The line between exploration and reckless permissiveness is fine indeed.

I’ve observed AA adherents diving into their fourth step; some of them came back as-is and some of them did not; some returned with seahorses while most returned with bottom dwellers captured so far down they had not the eyes to see but possessed a predator’s instinct instead.

Much of what they found was ugly but you can’t un-dive, can’t un-write, can’t un-see. You can only stay still or move forward. Many of those people soldiered on, calmly emptying their baskets of wares, a challenge to Pandora’s harried legacy.

They did not leave hope trapped in the box. They merely saved the best for last.

I realized I could live with that—I could live with the shaking of boxes until every last crumb lay on the floor and the only way out is up. Deciding what to bring to the surface for further examination is a prickly privilege bearing its own rewards.

I’m convinced that if Molchanova could take it all back she would not, that she would tread the same path again if that was the deal. By all accounts she was alive-alive when she died, rather than being merely upright, dutifully sucking air.

We are in a constant flux and balance with what drives us; there is no shame in putting down safety nets and guidelines; it is equally fine to recognize that sometimes those nets and guidelines will need repair or replacing.

Others simply will not hold.

But it’s far better to risk getting lost than to do nothing at all, or to sit on the shore watching as those daring enough pursue our dreams and risk doing what we ourselves love yet fear to embrace.

Fighting for balance between safety and risk is exhilarating and terrifying. The rivers we drink from are all the richer for those who have preceded us, the fallen included. The fallen especially.

Free of the weight of our drive, fears, and dreams there is no balancing act because there is no movement at all, only the security of stagnation boring us to death.

And that is the most unbearable death of all.

RIP Natalia Molchanova.

14 thoughts on “The Dive

    1. Thank you Alexander! And you know what–I’m still trying to get a stable “alive-alive” state too. I’m starting to accept that it’s a lifelong, shape-shifting goal that changes as we change. Hell–at least we won’t get bored. 🙂


  1. Really powerful writing here – loved the way you balanced the deep dive into the depths with the tightrope walk of being sober. My yoga teacher once told me the best way to get and stay grounded is through eating root vegetables – because they come from the earth and offer stability and are, after all, roots.


    1. What a lovely comment Bren, thank you. That’s a really interesting take on this piece of writing. I once threw my back out and was advised to lie flat and still with a potato in one hand and carrot in the other. I’m not sure how it all went down but by day’s end everything fell back into place and I was mobile again. Please don’t groan too hard if I tell you it’s wonderful ‘food for thought’. 😉


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