Saturday, July 16, 2011

Superman and the innocence of water

After Adel's accident i think we were all in shock; we lost a friend doing something we love, and that kind of loss is too big a deal to digest instantly. It is confusing still because we don't know exactly what happened, and even if i rationally know we did everything we could and everything went technically as it should have, an emotional and very stupid part of me thinks 'if you were superman you would have gotten him.'

Superman used to represent the fun side of freediving to me; i'd made a couple of videos where i dressed up as a superman caricature to ridicule that whole misconception of freedivers having special superhuman skills. (Actually, i was just mucking about having a laugh, but in hindsight it could be interpreted as something vaguely meaningful) I have always taken safety and being a safety diver serious, because that's not about me, but when it came to my own dives, i like to keep it light. Make fun of it. Pretend to be superman.

But then there was the accident and how do you deal with that? How do reconcile your love for the  lightness of water with its inherent dangers? It invites us to play but one mistake and you're gone. Suddenly, superman wasn't fun anymore. Back on shore, after we'd frantically looked for him, I got out of my wetsuit in a daze. Everything was a blur. The only thing i recognized was a need to go back into the water, go back now or forever stay out. So i went for a swim and dove to the bottom at around 10 meters, laid down on a sandy bit and then did my favorite thing: let the water bring me back up. As i drifted up slowly, watching the rays of light in the waves, a sentence of my dad's popped up in my head:

"Water is innocent of the temptations that well up from it; it even washes away its own sins."

Water is innocent. That comforted me -it felt true to what i was experiencing. I also made it easier to cope with what i was feeling: that i had to get back into the water, despite the horrible thing that just happened there. I'd keep diving, there was no question anymore about that. The memory of Adel would not be served by us stopping doing what he loved to do. But could it still be fun?

It's a strange thing after a death -when can you laugh again? When are you also perhaps allowed to laugh again? It's not just a personal thing, you want to show respect. After my father died of cancer, i started making bad jokes about cancer the next day, because i was angry and wanted to vent in a non-violent way, but at that time it was clear i had some social leeway -if the jokes were in bad taste i'd instantly be forgiven. With Adel, i wasn't sure of the procedure; when will we dive again, when will we mess around and crack jokes again?

The answer became clear quite quickly: everybody felt the same way, we all were shocked, we all lost a friend, and we all wanted to go back to the sea as soon as possible. Of course we had to take a couple of days off for bureaucratic things, but there was room for laughter almost instantly, remembering the funny side of Adel. As deeply a religious man as he was, he never let that get in the way of joining us when we were cracking nasty jokes. His jokes were always more sweet and far less disgusting, but with some of the things we said (remember, this is just men together for 10 days without the civilizing influence of women) he could have easily taken offense, but because of his beautiful sense of humor and calm dignity, he never did. The day before he'd missed a step transferring from one boat to the other and he dropped into the sea with less grace than we were accustomed to of him, so we called him 'Ah-fell' -he really enjoyed that. He was one of us, he would have wanted us to go on.

So we went back to the sea and back to having fun, this time with a hint of tension in the water and an edge of morbidity on land. Since there were only men around, rather than tears, humor became a welcome relief of the shock. One of the disgusting things we discovered was this trick by George:

And you'd think that the presence of some girls a bit later would improve matters, but actually, things just got more disturbing. Check out what Guillaume is doing to this plate of Baklavas -and the effect it has on Liv:

Guillaume is not only good with Baklavas plates, he's also good with bottom plates, even when they hang below 100 meters. That requires some serious safety, hanging at 30 meters. The first day back in the water was a bit of a test, seeing if i could deal with staring down that rope into the endless blue again. It's a safety diver's worst fear to not see your athlete come up, to have to make that decision to go back up without him or her. After having made that decision once, staying down there as long as i could and not seeing him anywhere, i was not entirely sure how it would be hanging down there again. The only way to find out was to go.

At 25 i couldn't see Guillaume yet, so i kept falling, not quite as relaxed as usual, and definitely with visions of Adel in the back of my mind, but i wasn't freaking out and i felt enough reserve to stay there for a while and be able to bring somebody back up. So i waited at 30. The sight of Guillaume coming up is always lovely, since he's got beautiful technique and a real sense of water, but on that day it was especially wonderful, feeling the relief wash away all trouble. He's a cool cookie, winking at me when he sees me. He's fine, you know everything's gonna be ok, you swim up together and just enjoy the dive. It's almost like it used to be, just beautiful and fun, though over the next weeks i notice there's another element, that a bit of the innocence is gone and replaced by a touch of grief. I think anyone who's experienced loss will recognize  this, after a while it strangely enriches your experience with a new dimension, a realization you are lucky to be here, and that it could have just as well not happen at all. You take things less for granted. I fell in love with freediving -and especially people coming up- all over, and made a bit of a love-song-video:

Another thing to fall in love with was an initiative of the big genius that is George Papadopoulos, who takes enormous delight in blowing air into plastic bottles at depth and the letting them rocket by over-pressure once back on the surface:

George and i had many talks about the deeper things in life:

And even superman returned; on my last day in Santorini, the wind was sweeping the waves a little too high to take the boats out, so a bunch of us went into one of them impossibly beautiful Greek towns on an impossibly sheer cliff, and after descending we went for a swim in the harbor. When i came out i dried myself with a towel my girl had given me, one displaying a very questionable image of superman, apparently wearing lipstick. The wind caught it and pressed it tight against me, and for a giggle i put superman's face over mine and assumed the pose. Guillaume spotted it and made it his picture of the day (his photography is annoyingly good:

It wasn't till i got back that the emotional, irrational part started acting up some more. The first few days i was quite out of it, forgetting what i was doing, since there was nothing serious to be done -except some bills, which i forgot. Every other thought was of his family, and going over everything, calculating whether i could have gone down to 60 after spending so long at 30, if at 60 i could've seen him, if i could have done anything there, if i could have...

4 days after i'd gotten back i was at a pool competition. At around 70 meters, Adel flashed through my mind, and i had to put everything to work not to stop swimming right there. You want life to pause sometimes, and it never does, which is also its cruel solace. We go on, knowing we can live with the pain. I'll miss Adel, miss that shy smile and those sharp eyes, his friendly and calm presence, even that slightly dodgy ponytail of his. I know i'll re-live those last moments of Adel over and over again, that june 7th will be a date that is burned in my memory, and that looking down an empty line when an athlete is slower than expected to come up will freak me out a little more than it used to. I also know that i can handle that -regretfully, that don't make me no superman.



GDB1975 said...

Heel heel heftig, dit verhaal. Heel veel sterkte bij je verdriet.

Mark H said...

Very nicely written Daan. You are highly thought of as a top safety diver / freediver among those of us who have been lucky enough to have you in the water alongside us.

Adel will have thought the same.

It isn't about what you did on the day, it's what you would have done had circumstances taken a different turn. And having the courage to continue doing what you do so well.

Keep the cape handy.

SeBiArt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SeBiArt said...

Daan - I'm sorry to hear this dear friend. What you have poured out here is so pure and beautiful that I shed tears. I don't know your tribe of divers, or 'Ah-fell' (so hilariously sweet that nickname!), but I do know you and your beguiling and puzzling mix of utter beautiful madness, and how you've shared this is no less complex, yet so simple and utterly courageous.

Yeah yeah, I'm one of those out there who marvels at what you guys do, but I get the pull to the water as my heart pulls me to dance. But the real admiration and wonder remains for me, in your ability to freedive to such depths in processing loss, to such pure spaces of truth when it comes to grieving. For all the journeys and growth spurts I've had over recent years, this remains (as you know) uncharted waters for me.

You honor your loved lost ones in such a palpable way that breathes new life, sacred and joyful life into their memory. I feel so lucky to be able to observe and learn this. One day... One day...

In short, fuck the red cape, it's a hindrance really; you swim, fly, and glide just fine without it SuperDaan.

Anonymous said...

In French, I use an idea and way of living that makes things sometimes more easy to overcome :

"Vivre sa vie en accord avec soi meme a tout instant, pour pouvoir mourir a tout moment le sourire aux levres "

I will keep in mind the foolish idea that maybe in the last moment, he smiled...

With love

Marc divefree