"When I was a child,
I nearly drowned of the coast of New Zealand.
My father swam out to save me.
Something changed in me that day"
There is something quite extraordinary about this Netflix series. Every time I watch one of these remarkable men or women, I am stirred to become a master at my craft and to find freedom in my unique creations. But this essay is not about my craft, that is for another day. Today is about drowning.
I too had my experience at drowning. Coming from a blue collar family, born in the South African hinterland, swimming was not a high priority. In fact we knew that all surfers "were dagga(dope) smokers". That was not what Pat and Elsa wanted their boy to become. So that was that.
The first attempt at involuntary drowning was at Umhloti Beach. The beautiful bridge of rocks carved a natural cove out of in the ocean, about 50 yards or so. It seemed to create a safe space for a little inlander to play without challenge. But the ocean drops, drifts and dumps you with unceremonial passion. I found myself in one of the many invisible gullies that twisted and turned below the surface. In no time I was in over my head. My inexperience soon had me panicking, as head and wave clashed for dominance. I was going down. Gently a pair of arms lifted me out of my "death" as a surfer (you know the dope smokers) came passed and pulled me onto his board and paddled me to shore. I live.
As I remember the second instance, I was about 8 years old down at the Addington Beach in Durban. The beach angled gently into the ocean but the raging African sea, rarely left it quite like that. The beach was living and moving. I was playing in the shallows when the current surgically drifted me from the safe place. In a moment I was in a gully and panic set into this vulnerable mind of mine. Standing on my tippy toes I could barely breath, as I grabbed the little air that I could, only to find myself tossed by the next wave that slammed the shoreline. I was in trouble and I knew it. Our mind seems to play these movements in slow motion while in reality our feelings played it at speed. My older sister seemed to appear out of nowhere and put her strong arms under my armpits, holding me above the water line - saving a very fragile brother.
In the TV series "The Crown" there is a very powerful scene about Prince Phillip (husband to Queen Elizabeth ). As a boy he was sent from Austria to a very remote north eastern part of Scotland where he was to attend boarding school. It was a tough environment that was worsened by his social exclusivity that alienated him from the other boys. His only intimate family member who really cared for him, was his older sister who happened to be married to a member of the Nazi party. While he was at school, his sister (who hated flying) was aboard a flight with her whole family when the plane went down and the whole family was killed. In a very brutal scene, he goes home to the funeral, only for his father to publicly berate him, blaming him for the death of his sister. The father then wants nothing to do with him, never wanting to see him again.
Prince Philip is devastated. He returns to his isolated Scottish school. He seeks to work out his pain and brokenness by trying to finish building the gate of the school, by himself, without food, sleep or help. The wise head master lets him battle his demons alone. Eventually, he gets to the metal gates, which under normal circumstances would have been to heavy for a lad but to an exhausted and dehydrated teen it was impossible. The tireless day/night labor on no food, through the rain and cold, made his effort impossible.
There is then a most moving scene, as the prince walks into the warm dinning hall where the staff and students are eating. He stands there, cold, exhausted, weary and quietly whispers "help!" The head master asks him to say it louder, to which the prince replies "can someone please help me"?
Dear friend we were not created to do life alone. From the garden when the Father says "It is not good for man to be alone", there is an announcement that we are not created to be isolated individuals. If we are the "imago Dei ", we were created to reflect the three being one and working as one. Of course I am not talking about marriage alone. In fact, this essay is not about marriage at all. It is understanding that we are created for an "us-ness".
Paul the apostle warns that in the last days people will be "lovers of self", in fact one could argue that rampant individualism is the scourge of the west. We have lost the joyous art of community and fallen in love with our narcissistic selves, preoccupied only with what seems good to "me".
This is all and well until we are drowning. Then our brutal loneliness beats us into a slow overwhelming death. Who will lift our flagging arms? In the book of Hebrews, we find a fascinating collection of "let us'". The 10 verses remind us, we cannot do it alone. We have to surrender the drive of the indulgent ego of "me" and bend a humble knee to "can somebody help me?"
This life is complex, overwhelming and taking us down. The desire to go it alone is sentimentally applauded but biblically a drowning disaster. We were created to "let us". There is no exemption and no excuses. We were created for community and will only make it through community. How do I know? Well I nearly drowned in life and ministry and only the arms of friends, true friends, lasting friends saved me. Community can hurt like crazy . Of course we can be tempted to want out and to do by ourselves. I know I have been there. But being on my own is no solution. The currents are brutal, the beach is shifting and the waves are pounding. It is then we simply cannot be alone.