“The sea is emotion incarnate. It loves, hates and weeps.
If defies all attempts to capture it with words and rejects
all shackles. No matter what you say about it, there is
always that which you can’t.”
-Christopher Paolini, Author

 Five years after my fall, I went on holiday to the Virgin Islands.

The sea stretched as far as the eye could see. It was spellbinding in it’s beauty. It’s colour varied from a deep purply blue to cool turquoise. Why wasn’t our South African sea these vibrant colours, I wondered. We moored our boat alongside a coral reef. I had been lent flippers, mask and snorkel. I had never snorkelled before and was both excited and a little nervous. My friends gave me a thumbs up, turned to the water and flooop, they were gone! 

Flooopassshhhhh!!!! I splashed into the water with a little more vigour than the others. When the bubbles from my entrance had cleared, a world that was wonderfully new opened her arms and embraced me. I have no words to aptly describe the life that was revealed. In the Virgin Islands, the seawater is transparently clear. The sea life is both luscious and delicate. Part of me wished for a camera to capture the enchantment of the environment that dipped and danced before me. The exotic fish that swirled around, beneath and above me were mesmerising. What was so exhilarating was that underwater, everyone, like me, was deaf!  I thought that there was no way to capture this experience. It was too vast and other worldly. I must simply be in the moment and remember.

In Peter Veysie’s sermon last Sunday, he conjured up this twenty-three year old memory of the Virgin Islands, when he spoke of his time snorkelling in Israel. He spoke of a world of devastating beauty that you only become aware of when you don a pair of goggles and snorkel and venture into the ocean. Wham! The underwater beauty hits you full on. He said that often people are like this. When we encounter people, we often tend to only see what they present to us. Look closer, search deeper, dive into them and their beauty will hit you like a dynamic force! 

This beauty within is a mind blowing thing to behold. And you don’t even need a snorkel and goggles!

B and I have a friend, Moira. We actually met Moira in church. Both B and I are deaf so we always sit in the second row. The first two seats in the second row are taken by a lovely lady, Dot and then there’s Moira who sits next to me. We love seeing what Moira is wearing. She is an eighty year old who arrives in these wonderful trouser suits. Whatever the colour – orange, purple, green or pink, everything matches. She is a sheer delight! 

Last week, through WhatsApp, I discovered that she had cancer and was in hospital. I received a message from B who had also just got the WhatsApp news:

“I’m coming past your place. I’ll pick you up and we’ll go see Moira together.”

Moira’s face broke into an enormous smile when she saw us. I gave her a tight hug.

“I am so sorry, Moira,”I said, “what a complete bummer! Whereabouts is the cancer?”

“It’s everywhere. They’ve done tests and will tell me properly later. But enough of me, tell me, did you have a wonderful time overseas?”

B and I spoke a bit about my trip to visit her and John. Then Moira said: 

“I have also just been overseas to England. Do you know,” she said with sparkling eyes, “this was the first time I have ever left Africa.”

“Moira!” B gasped.

“And I had the most splendid time. My family took me to London, Scotland and the Lake District. Oh, what a marvellous holiday we had.”

We spoke to Moira as we had never done before. I saw this gutsy lady with a sense of humour who, in spite of everything, has retained a deep love of life. When we finally left the hospital, the smell of the ocean hung over B and me. Mentally I flung our snorkels and flippers into the back of the car. 

I am fortunate to know Nisha Varghese. She has cerebral palsy and spends her life in a wheelchair. Physically she battles. But, deep within her depths beats the most incredible compassionate heart. She could be bitter, miserable and depressed. Instead she spends her time striving to improve the lives of others by raising money for various charities. Whenever I read one of her Facebook posts, I can hear the sea waves echoing as they crash onshore. I can also see the wonder and enchantment below the sea. A glorious place that quite definitely belongs to Nisha. 

Last week, I watched Princess Eugenie get married. The bride got out of the car in this exquisite bridal gown. Prince Andrew, her father, took her arm as she mounted the steps of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. The dress had a low cut back and you could clearly see this long scar running down her spine. It was from an operation she had when she was much younger as a result of Scoliosis. I loved the fact that she hadn’t chosen to hide it. What she was saying was: ‘Yes, I have a scar but that is part of what makes me who I am. And I feel beautiful today!’

I am reminded of Edith Egers’ words in her magnificent book The Choice:’Maybe to heal isn’t to erase the scar or even to make the scar. To heal, is to cherish the wound.’

Princess Eugenie was certainly cherishing her wound. Since the wedding, people around the world have been empowered not to be ashamed of their scars. After all, they are only skin deep!

As Princess Eugenie said: “I think you can change the way beauty is.”

A shoal of fish darted in amongst the pink coral. Their gold and black stripes seemed to laugh at the starfish as they spun on their way. The sea anemones looked on nodding approvingly.

I have not been as brave as Princess Eugenie. 

As a result of my fall, my body changed. Because of my spasticity, I walk with a limp and have an unruly arm that does its own thing. I also have a squonk eye and wear two cochlear implants to deal with my deafness. Aware of these imperfections, I am constantly striving to hide them. 

Last week, a pharmacist turned to serve me and gave a gasp. 

Cochlear Implants!” she exclaimed, pointing at my head.

My hand shot up to my Cochlear Implant that is normally hidden by my hair. Blast, it was showing.

“How wonderful! Would you mind just waiting a moment?” she asked. “Lene, Lene, come here quickly?”

A young woman appeared from behind the shelves.

“This is my daughter, Lene,” she said, “and I want to show her your Cochlear Implants. We have been told that Lene needs them. She has been unbelievably apprehensive. But look,” she said to her daughter, “look how neat they are. There’s nothing frightening or ugly about them at all.”

Lene came closer and gave my Cochlear Implant devices a thorough inspection.        

“I was totally deaf for 18 years,” I said, “These Cochlear Implants re-opened the world to me. What is incredible is what is hidden between my skull and my skin. Twenty-two electrodes!  These pick up the vibrations travelling through my Cochlear and transmit messages to my brain. The whole thing is an almost uncanny, magical miracle. I am now able to hear things that were lost to me for years. Lene, don’t be apprehensive. Greet your Cochlear Implants with joy.”

As I left the chemist I saw reams of fish, scatter through the waves in front of my minds eye. And I laughed. I must remember that it is what is underneath the water that is important. Underneath Lene’s water and underneath mine.

I hope that people, on meeting me, are diverted from all of my imperfections. I would like them to put on metaphorical snorkels and goggles and plunge beneath the surface. Together we can investigate the beauty that exists in the hidden depths of life’s great ocean. 

We can explore each other. Finding the beauty beneath the surface.

This kind of beauty is ravishing!